A Serbian Film

3 out of 5

Director: Srđan Spasojević

The first thing one of my friends said to me about this film rings true, and is part of what gives it merit: I haven’t seen something like it before.  Well, “duh,” right?  This is the film that was notorious for baby rape and skull-stabbings-with-erections.  But that’s not how I took the friend’s comment.  I mean, we’ve both done our horror tours, so while some specific scenes might be newly committed to our eyeballs, the concept of shock ain’t new.  I more interpreted it in the same way that I would say I haven’t seen something like Martyrs before – a film that chooses it’s particular images to achieve its particular goal.

‘A Serbian Film’ is hindered from being too affecting (okay, so I’m jaded to gore) by its theme being so purposefully insular – the film is called ‘A Serbian Film’ for a reason, and the main antagonist speaks to us at length about the nature of the Serbian family, and how it is expected that they exist, in a sense, only to leech off of each other or to bleed…  Hell, the director went ahead and clarified further – life in Serbia is to be fucked from birth until death.  If you go in wondering about metaphorical layers, you’re going to feel slapped in the face.  There’s no pretension here – director Srđan Spasojević wanted to get as cynical as possible as visually forcibly as possible, and he does it.  The film “builds” toward an inevitable climax, something that I don’t think is meant to be a twist – any attempt at spinning this into a drama does make it exploitative in a different sense than I think it was intended – so, rather, the eventual reveals are meant to be reveals to the characters and not the viewer, the in-movie director proving his “point” with visual stimuli – very insular, as I said.  But it was fascinating, it was executed well, with full-on dedication to taking the concept as far as it could possibly, possibly go, to the extent that it’s not torture, it’s not gratuitous, it’s just as pointlessly visceral as, so we’re told, life in Serbia must be.

Anyhow, if you’re unfamiliar, the plot is as follows: A legendary porn cock-swaddler, in need of cash, is lured back into the biz for one big job with an “up and coming” director who’s into making art, not porn.  What kind of art?  Well, the kind that our lead ends up not wanting to get involved in, after a couple scenes.  Things that make him uncomfortable, even though he’s told the girls involved are into the abuse they’re made to suffer for the films.  Spasojević does an excellent job of humanizing our lead Srđan Todorović (playing Miloš), as does the actor at portraying the man in a believable fashion – somewhat jealous of his past life, somewhat jaded, but overall just a man, saying “no” when it comes down to it, but realistically portrayed in that he can be pushed around a little bit before getting to that point.  His wife knows about his past and even encourages him to go for the money; he handles his sons questions about what his father does with a balance between informative and veiled.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is the smooth and assured director, Vukmir, played by Sergej Trifunović with villainous bravado.  The glee he gets from explaining his take on porn in the modern Serbian world is tellingly off, but he’s educated and reassuring and there’s money involved…  And things just degrade and degrade, and now Miloš is being forced to continue with the film against his will…

Extrapolate as you will.  Yes, every atrocity is shown.  Two interesting notes to the gore: I respect that Spasojević trots out what would be the “trump” shock card in any other film – baby rape – almost before anything else goes wacky.  It’s how the in-film director shows Miloš what’s what.  This scene is dropped about halfway through.  As the whole film does, it functions on a meta level: here is what we’re willing to do.  The other interesting aspect is the gore and sex is de-sexualized.  Compare to most torture porn, which bundles with it a huffing and drooling male predator, generally.  And yet, in this film about porn, the sex is cold, an equal amount of dicks flashing across the screen as boobs.

Yup.  I’m sort of surprised how much even horror kids denounced this film, when they’re willing to stand by a lot of more indirectly offensive tripe.  Some images are just ingrained as socially wrong to people, which, again, is sort of what the film is about.  So… goal achieved?  As I’ve mentioned a couple times in this blabber, the idea is very wrapped around itself, so as an ignorant American, I’m not too affected or offended by what A Serbian Film has shown me.  It slots into the same category as Nekromantik, a personal statement that uses the genre of shock to communicate something – grossly, forcibly, whatever.  If you have the stomach for these films, they are interesting compositions and worthwhile experiments in the medium.

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