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Few films have caused as much of a stir as Srdjan Spasojevic’s “A Serbian Film”, with it having whipped up controversy at pretty much every screening on the international festival circuit. Most notably, the film was famously pulled from the London 2010 FrightFest after the BBFC demanded initial cuts totalling more than four minutes. Inevitably, this has marked the film as a must-see item for fans of extreme cinema – though even the most bravest and jaded of genre addicts may not be prepared for the hellish ride it offers, which doesn’t break taboos, as much as it ties them to the bed and fucks them to death.
The plot follows Milos (Srdan Todorovic), a porn star lured out of semi retirement when former co-star Lejla (Katarina Žutic) puts him in touch with Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic, who made an appearance in the Nicholas Cage vehicle “Next”), a rich director who wants him to star in what he calls a serious art sex film. Although Milos is hesitant, not least since Vukmir refuses to tell him what the film will be about, the lure of the money, which he needs to support his wife and son, is too great. He agrees to star in the film, unknowingly setting himself off on a personal journey into increasingly horrific and brutal excess, and to the darkest recesses of the human soul.
“A Serbian Film” is one of the very rare cases of a film truly living up to its notoriety and being well deserving of its infamy. Simply put, the film is a piece of savagery, and one which really should not be approached lightly, even by those who have been unmoved by the most gruesome and shocking of works. Without wishing to spoil any of its nasty surprises, it’s enough to say that the film contains graphic scenes of extreme sexual violence and gore, including rape, incest and necrophilia – as well as a few other things best not mentioned here. Director Spasojevic really heaps on the atrocities, and though in part the film does frequently trick the viewer into thinking they have seen more than they actually have, it truly does break through the barrier of what is traditionally considered acceptable. It’s hard to imagine the film getting a wide release in most countries, especially since trimming it of any of its most heinous scenes would render it rather pointless. The film is very well made on a technical level, and has a bigger budget and slicker look than might have been expected, with horribly convincing special effects that make the material all too believable.
What may come as a surprise then, is the fact that the film is by no means a hollow piece of button pushing schlock, with all of its unpleasantness having an explicit point. Spasojevic, who co-wrote the script along with horror film critic Aleksandar Radivojevic, describes it as “a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government”. Of course, this may mean nothing to 99% of its non-domestic audience, but even to those without any knowledge of Serbian life it is very clear that the film has something to say. Angry and unflinchingly nihilistic , the film does a great job of never trying too hard to hammer home its messages, and in its way is actually very intelligent and cleverly constructed. At the same time, it works on a more basic cinematic level, with a gripping plot that slowly notches up the tension, and does a great job of implicating the viewer in the onscreen carnage. As such, it makes for a genuinely challenging time, and is burned into the memory long after the final credits have rolled – again, this may not be a good thing for those wishing to forget what they’ve just been subjected to. All of this helps the film to rise well above the level of the likes of Tom Six’s foolish and laughable “The Human Centipede”, and makes it far more accessible than Lars Von Trier’s ponderously dull “Antichrist” (most of whose horrors came from the sight of craggy old Willem Dafoe’s constant gurning).
Though this may be hard to believe, in its own way, “A Serbian Film” is also quite funny, albeit in a coffin black humour sort of manner. This is partly due to the way that Spasojevic just constantly heaps on the agony for poor Milos, making him one of the most unfortunate and put upon protagonists in recent memory. Though it’s not to say that it is hard to take the film seriously, its ne plus ultra intensity and stream of increasingly awful imagery give it a kind of wacked out Grand Guignol surrealism which does make for a fair amount of amusement, at least for viewers with a certain moral flexibility. This aside, there are certain parts of the film which do appear to have a sly undercurrent of humour, from the spot on recreations of Euro-porn through to the dreadful sense of irony and inevitability hanging over the proceedings and its evil final scenes.
Ultimately, it’s very difficult to know whether or not to recommend “A Serbian Film”, simply because it is the most offensive and potentially damaging film of recent years, and is likely to anger and utterly appall a pretty high percentage of all those who watch it. Deserving of praise for its genuine attempt to marry extreme content with a worthy socio-political message, it’s a far better made film than most would predict, and is all the more monstrous for the fact that Spasojevic clearly knows exactly what he is doing. Certainly, viewers should approach with caution, as there really are things on show here which are unforgettable in the worst possible way.
Srdjan Spasojevic (director) / Aleksandar Radivojevic (screenplay), Srdjan Spasojevic (screenplay)
CAST: Srdjan Todorovic … Milos
Sergej Trifunovic … Vukmir
Jelena Gavrilovic … Marija
Katarina Zutic … Lejla
Slobodan Bestic … Marko
Ana Sakic … Jecina majka
Lena Bogdanovic … Doktorka
Luka Mijatovic … Stefan
Andjela Nenadovic … Jeca