"A SERBIAN FILM"
by Kevin Carr
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MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5 stars)
Srdan Todorovic as MILOS
Sergej Trifunovic as VUKMIR
Jelena Gavrilovic as MARIJA
Slobodan Bestic as MARKO
Katarina Zutic as LEJLA
Luka Mijatovic as STEFAN
Studio: Invincible Pictures
Directed by: Srdjan Spasojevic
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Like most people I know, I heard about “A Serbian Film” long before I ever saw it. But unlike most people I know, I didn’t seek it out before it’s release. Part of this is because on principle, I don’t support bit-torrenting and the like. Another, more obvious part was because the awful things I heard about it didn’t exactly entice me to see it.
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In this way, the notoriety surrounding “A Serbian Film” is actually greater than the picture itself. This has been very beneficial to it because it’s brought the film to worldwide attention. After all, I doubt that even the best-made film from Serbia would have received the attention this film has without the controversy.
At the same time, the rumors, speculation and buzz surrounding “A Serbian Film” is its own worst enemy. Yes, some truly awful things happen in the picture, but it’s so much more than just a cavalcade of offensive scenes. Compared to something like “Human Centipede: Part II (Full Sequence),” which does nothing more than attempt to gross out the audience and one-up other extreme pictures (including trying to one-up “A Serbian Film” with newborn violence), “A Serbian Film” has a real point to be made.
The sad thing is that point that is to be made is lost on most people who will be offended or outraged to the point of dismissing the movie as trash.
But let’s get past that extreme material first. It’s awful. It’s horrible. It’s not fun to watch. However, contrary to what many people claim, it’s not exploitative. Every thing that happens in this movie, every heinous act that is carried out, has happened time and again throughout human history. In particular, these things have happened in conjunction with Serbia, in times of recent war.
“A Serbian Film” isn’t a traditional horror story, but rather a drama that looks the audience dead in the eye and dares them to acknowledge its unsavory heritage. It challenges people all over the world to examine our own pre-conceived notions about that area of the world, showing us something we do not expect.
The story follows a retired Serbian porno star named Milos who is trying to make a decent living with his wife and son. As his nest egg he built up from his film days dwindles, he gets a visit from a past colleague who hooks him up with a new filmmaker for a mysterious project. Milos is offered an obscene amount of money to star in a new film, the details of which are hidden from him. Reluctantly, he accepts and soon finds himself falling down a dangerous rabbit hole, and he becomes an unwilling participant in some of the worst acts a person can perform.
I have had a long debate with friends as to what constitutes a horror movie. Films like this exist in a gray area. It’s not traditional horror, but it’s horrible. It’s no overtly scary, but damn if it doesn’t make you feel extremely uncomfortable. To some, this feeling of discomfort constitutes a horror film, and I’m not completely in disagreement with that.
I’ve been extremely critical of films like “Irreversible,” “I Spit on Your Grave” and “The Last House on the Left” because I’m not wild about the graphic depiction of rape just to make the audience squirm. Similarly, I’ve been down on the later “Saw” films because any message from the first movies is lost to simple exploitative violence.
But unlike “Irreversible” which revels in a nine-minute rape scene and seems to get off on the act, “A Serbian Film” shows the atrocities as true acts of horror. Director Srdjan Spasojevic has stated that the movie is supposed to show how his own government has controlled its people to do heinous crimes, and that definitely comes across. “A Serbian Film” does not fetishize these acts but rather shows them as awful, monstrous things. They’re the shark in “Jaws,” devouring a twelve-year-old boy or the Frankenstein monster throwing a young girl into the river.
What stands out to me about “A Serbian Film” is not its brutal nature, but rather its impeccable filmmaking process. This is not some grainy, poorly-lit basement, low-budget horror film. It looks great. The cinematography is powerful. The acting is unflinching. And the sets are slick. This could be a full-scale Hollywood production, again challenging our preconceived notions of what is Serbian.
Against a backdrop where most of the characters are healthy and attractive, where the sets are high-class and clean and the day-to-day backdrop is safe and warm, we see an underlying theme of desperation and madness. Milos is our Alice, chasing the white rabbit of a safe and healthy family. However, the farther he chases that rabbit down the hole, the darker things get, and he’s trapped in the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
Sadly, much of the film’s message will be lost on its audience. Those who are offended won’t see past the horrible scenes. Those who want to challenge themselves to withstand it will fixate on them and brag about how they watched it. This leaves “A Serbian Film” in a challenging position... one where its own nature usurps its truth.
The uncut version of the film is not available in the U.S. as cuts had to be made to exhibit it theatrically with an NC-17 label. Many of the worst moments of the film are toned down for the Blu-ray and DVD release, though don’t think things are anywhere near a PG-13 rating either. Some of the punch of the film is lost in its home video release, but the message, discomfort and point of the film are still there. So if you’ve got the stomach, give this movie a shot and look past its own reputation for deeper meaning.
The Blu-ray does not have any special features, which is a shame because of all films I’ve seen this year, there is none that I’d more prefer to have some background information to address the notoriety and its taboo nature.
However, considering this is the only way to legally view the film in the U.S., it’s worth a look.