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.