A SERBIAN FILM Review [Is it as disturbing as you've heard?]

Posted by Peter Hall - July 9th 2010 @ 4:05 pm

Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic, 2010
Written by Aleksandar Radivojevic, Srdjan Spasojevic


A SERBIAN FILM has only been shown around the world a handful of times, but I have no doubt that you’ve heard about the film.  Its rarity certainly hasn’t hurt its early reputation as being a film that cannot be unseen, a film so shocking that it might technically be illegal for it to be shown in the United States.  So the first question anyone has about the film is likely going to be whether or not it is as shocking and extreme as they’ve heard.  The short, easy answer is yes.  Yes, it is.

It’s been a good while since I’ve seen SERBIAN FILM and I still can’t scrap its images and ideas out of my mind’s eye.  I’m honestly not sure I ever will be able to.  Saying that will only galvanize more people toward wanting to see it for themselves, and I understand that instinct, but I personally have absolutely no desire to ever watch it again.  But before I get to precisely why I’m fine with only having seen the film a single time, let’s talk about what Srdjan Spasojevic’s directorial debut is about.

Milos used to be a porn star.  He’s done everything he can to break from that decadent world and be a simple father.  But virtuous money isn’t easy to come by, particularly when he is still widely considered to have the best dick in Serbia.  His ability to get hard and stay hard is legendary, which is precisely why an underground porn director named Vukmir wants him for this next masterpiece.  Vukmir refuses to tell Milos what kind of a porn movie he’s making out of fear that it’ll render his performance inauthentic, a contractual caveat that gives the star cause for concern.  But the money is just too good.  And thus begins Milos’ hellish odyssey.

That description alone should give you enough information to know whether or not you want to see A SERBIAN FILM.  It’s all too easy to combine that synopsis with the knowledge that its content is churning stomachs and breaking faces every time it lights up the silver screen and imagine that you know how easily it can veer toward very risque, very taboo territory.  I’m here to tell you that you’re right.  I don’t even need to say what kind of images and acts are in this movie, your fear at what could be in it should get the job done.  That said, you’re also wrong.  It’s even more difficult to watch than you think.

Spasojevic and Radivojevic’s script doesn’t just veer into taboo territory, it blasts toward depravity with a Saturn V rocket strapped to its back.  However, it’s worth pointing out that it doesn’t enjoy doing so.  The filmmakers behind these shocks are clearly terrified of what they’re putting on the screen.  But that’s supposed to be the point.  They’re supposed to be crafting a legitimately dramatic story that can co-exist with visuals and ideas that don’t just push the boundary of what is pornography and what is art, they chop its head off and fuck its corpse.

The trouble is I’m not convinced they pulled it off.  A remarkable amount of thought went into designing each of these characters, and particularly how best to escalate the creepiness, but there are fundamental narrative problems at play in A SERBIAN FILM that prevent it from becoming more than a film that will be talked about solely because of how ghastly it is.  The last two-thirds of the film, which finds Milos waking up from a drug-induced daze and retracing the events of the last few days, is very slowly paced and completely miscalculates the formula for escalating the creepiness that was so effective in the first third of the film.  It slogged down to the point where I was wishing it would all just end.  But it doesn’t.  It keeps going until it runs out of ways to make you regret starting the whole endeavor.

I’m unsure as to what kind of commentary the filmmakers are even trying to make to justify their content.  It would seem that all of their rage is directed toward Serbia’s self-loathing porn industry, essentially taking an “if it’s an inch, it’s a mile” attitude toward it– that if its citizens are going to keep denigrating themselves by making sleazy, but relatively normal porn, they might as well be making the extreme, avant garde stuff that Vukmir is selling to his rich, private clients.  They’re clearly trying to cut their way to some core statement, but they should be using a scalpel instead of the jack hammer that is the “make it end!” last half of the movie.

Any specific voice just gets lost in the bloody, messy struggle.  That’s a shame, too, because Spasojevic is an otherwise powerful filmmaker.  A SERBIAN FILM looks dynamite.  This isn’t some disgusting, no-budget snuff film made by some backyard wrestlers in their garage.  All of its sights, not just the gory ones, are striking and it has a remarkably effective score that dominates your ears in the same way the visuals take command of your eyes.  And the acting is aces all around.

Instinctively I feel it’s not a worthless film – it’s interesting and unquestionably provocative – but I’ve been struggling in the weeks since seeing it to discern what exactly its value is.  But for all I know that could be the intended effect.  Perhaps you’re not supposed to “get” A SERBIAN FILM, you’re supposed to just be taken over by it.  That’s a little too basic for me, but if that’s the case, then my hat is off and respectfully tipped.  I certainly felt like I had been fucked by the time it was over.

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rss 15 comments
  1. hansulu
    July 17th, 2010 | 9:12 am | #1

    Sounds horrible. Yet… I am intrigued.

  2. remedial_gash
    August 20th, 2010 | 12:13 pm | #2

    “I’m unsure as to what kind of commentary the filmmakers are even trying to make to justify their content. It would seem that all of their rage is directed toward Serbia’s self-loathing porn industry, essentially taking an “if it’s an inch, it’s a mile” attitude toward it– that if its citizens are going to keep denigrating themselves by making sleazy, but relatively normal porn, they might as well be making the extreme, avant garde stuff that Vukmir is selling to his rich, private clients. They’re clearly trying to cut their way to some core statement, but they should be using a scalpel instead of the jack hammer that is the “make it end!” last half of the movie.”

    Clearly you’re not from Europe.

    The war in former Yugoslavia was uglier than you can imagine – far uglier than this film.

    Even from my cosseted life in the UK I can see that this is a “Fuck You!” movie – it is what we ‘are supposed’ to expect from a nation such such as Serbia, please do some research.

    Gash
    x

  3. Hunter Sparks
    September 16th, 2010 | 5:05 pm | #3

    So obviously if you’re gonna see this movie, you are fan of gore and blood. I just saw this new movie called Scar 3D and lemme tell you, it was one of the most gory and bloody movies I’ve ever seen, and it was in 3D! I was very impressed with the practical effects. The torture scenes were very hard to watch, there’s this one scene with this chick’s tongue…It’s making me sick just thinking about it. Anyway, I suggest you check it out if you want some truly intense horror.

  4. Homer
    September 25th, 2010 | 11:22 am | #4

    Gash,
    the one that is generically categorizing a nation (and people in it) must be a moron… Or would you like to say something to Germans maybe?
    Please relax in your comfort
    Homer

  5. MaidenOfMischief
    October 9th, 2010 | 10:04 pm | #5

    I recently watched this film, and I thought it was wonderfully done. I am perfectly happy with never seeing this movie again. It left a thorogh enough impact the first time. This is the first movie that I believe I will be able to remember forever. While I’m a little torn on how I feel about not forgetting some of the more fucked up aspects of it… I really think it was one of the best movies I’ve seen in quiet some time.

  6. October 21st, 2010 | 8:31 pm | #6

    A Serbian Film will be playing at our upcoming film festival at Portage Theater in Chicago on Saturday, October 23rd. http://www.horrorsociety.com/festivals/

  7. HorrorGirl
    November 30th, 2010 | 11:17 pm | #7

    Homer,

    Gash is absolutely right. The directors (only one of whom can speak a decent amount of English) confessed to a reporter in a rare and coveted interview what the purpose of the movie was. The reply included their feelings about the war in former Yugoslavia, their reaction to the Serbian authorities who encouraged brash savagery, and this movie was their attempt to express EXACTLY what they felt was done to the Serbian people. Gash is absolutely correct in saying that this was their “fuck you” to the world.

    http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/interview/638

    This movie certainly is something I cannot un-see, but most devastatingly something I cannot un-HEAR. I agree that it is not a movie that I would outright recommend to people who are simply looking to fulfill their curiosity, as this film delves into dark reaches of the sickest of minds: it is repugnant, execrable, contemptible, and nasty.

    … and brilliant.

    The direction is extremely accomplished, and the character development throughout the film is creepily disconcerting and at the same time, comprehensive and appreciated by this viewer. The production, lighting, make-up is all proficiently carried out. To be well honest, this movie as a FILM is fantastic. It just so happens to be the single most wretched piece of work I’ve ever seen.

    I truly believe that the feeling of boorish atrocity we walk away with was exactly the purpose of the film’s writers/directors. They executed it brilliantly, and their MISSION to disturb and abominate is considered ACCOMPLISHED.

  8. LadyLucifer
    December 25th, 2010 | 3:59 pm | #8

    I’m from Serbia. I’ve seen it. It’s not so bad, but not even close to being as disgusting and shocking as people say. 5/10

  9. January 31st, 2011 | 10:43 pm | #9

    This movie was shot very well, the emotion and sense of darkness of the movie is tremendous, but that is all I really see in this movie, as I am not intrigued by shock value horror.

  10. gop
    March 17th, 2011 | 6:02 pm | #10

    Masonic floor, Alice in Wonderland, the spirit from the lamp with saber, you a traveling to another dimension! It is a Masonic film!

  11. vlada
    May 2nd, 2011 | 11:56 am | #11

    I am from Serbia, and I completely understand the message this movie has given to the people who have seen it. There is always somebody above you who will control your life, and that is presented in a shocking way in this movie.

  12. May 31st, 2011 | 2:11 pm | #12

    It sounds fairly rough. I’m not that convinced I want to see it. The thing that makes films like The Beyond palatable is the warmth from the main characters. This doesn’t sound like it’s got that. I may be wrong.

  13. ella
    July 7th, 2011 | 4:37 am | #13

    Like Human Trafficking,people, this is really happening around the world.

  14. Edo
    August 20th, 2011 | 11:02 pm | #14

    sick movie..a total waste of time

  15. MaiDee
    August 27th, 2011 | 2:52 pm | #15

    I am from Serbia, and can tell you:
    You are fucking as, exactly 20 years now, in every
    hole, in every position, and age (even new born – like Serbia is). You are doing it together with our government. All what we can do is to tell you: Fuck you, and the Serbian word for this behavior is “Inat” (will gladely die if I with that I make some demage to you). And this is what you got from this brilliant move – like it or not.

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