The twentysomething crowd is the target audience for “Panama,” debuting feature helmer Pavle Vuckovic’s cautionary tale of love in the Internet age. Designed to expose the way social media neuters genuine attachments in favor of hollow, porn-like thrills, the pic achieves a creepy thriller vibe but would need more perceptive scripting to give the characters stand-alone lives beyond the usual tropes. Thematically tied to a number of Eastern European dramas taking an unfiltered look at the sexed-up self-commodification of Generation Z, “Panama” could see decent biz at home, with international play at youth-oriented fests.
After a couple of years futzing around, Jovan (Slaven Doslo) returns to his architecture studies under the tutelage of swinging professor Goran (Nebojsa Milovanovic). In between classes, he hangs with swaggering best bud Milan (Milos Pjevac), who keeps beating his friend in their running “how many babes did you bang” contest. Then Jovan meets Maja (Jovana Stojiljkovic): The sex is hot, but he’s not interested in being tied down.
While maintaining a cool exterior, Jovan becomes increasingly interested in the unreadable Maja, who seems upset at first about the non-exclusivity clause but agrees to the no-strings-attached proviso. A big draw is that she’s an animal in the sack, though their passionate rutting feels like a porn-film performance; otherwise, when they’re together in her house, she’s more concentrated on her cell phone than on him.
This hot-and-not approach gets Jovan wondering, so he does a little cyber-stalking and is confused by what he finds: drunken postings from nightclubs with her goodtime-girlfriend Milica (Jelisaveta Orasanin), and images of tropical beaches on her Facebook page. Maja seems to be lying to him, so he calls things off, but can’t get her out of his system.
Though co-scripted by a woman (Jelena Vuksanovic), “Panama” plays like a warning to male viewers: Beware of whom you hook up with. Caught by the lure of hot bedroom antics, Jovan is helpless in the face of potent female sexuality, which is depicted as duplicitous and ruinous. In addition, while Milan’s braggadocio may be sleazy, it’s Milica’s presumed easiness that’s seen in a harsher condemnatory light.
More gender-neutral is the way the pic deals with relationships in the cyber age: Attachments are drained of emotion, with couplings taking their cue from porn, and quantity over quality is the name of the game. As in Maja Milos’ “Clip,” sluttiness is an aspirational quality worthy of being plastered on social media, and anyone uncool enough to condemn it, or weak enough to fall, should get out of the game.
Vuckovic should have paid more attention to the structure of Jovan’s life: He barely seems to be in class, and the script doesn’t know what to do with the part-time job he gets. Less-than-incisive editing is partly to blame, as the cutting privileges almost-Lynchian mystery elements, furthered by composer Milan Sv. Durdevic’s heightened bass lines. Costume design is needlessly conspicuous, with Jovan’s every shirt change calling attention to itself; art direction is more successful, especially in the contrast between Maja’s dark, run-down home and the sunny tropical photos she has on Facebook..