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A Serbian Film

Year: 2010   Company: Contra Film   Runtime: 104′
Director: Srdjan Spasojevic   Writers: Srdjan Spasojevic, Aleksandar Radivojevic
Cinematography: Nemanja Jovanov   Music: Sky Wikluh
Cast: Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Katarina Zutic,
Slobodan Bestic, Ana Sakic, Lena Bogdanovic, Luka Mijatovic, Andjela Nenadovic

Angry, nihilistic and repulsive in more or less equal measure, Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film has followed a cultural trend not unlike the recent horror bust The Human Centipede, and become notorious online before most have even had a chance to see it.  The big difference between the two is that A Serbian Film delivers the gruesome goods, a compendium of some of the most vile horror concepts in recent exploitation history, though whether that’s for better or for worse is up for debate.

I must confess – I had absolutely no intention of reviewing this one after I finished screening it on Friday, and it’s taken a weekend worth of thought to change my mind on that particular front.  At the time I had no idea of how to discuss what I had seen, a parade of grotesque sexual violence that was brutal in its extremity yet near comic in its absurdity.  Rather than being put off by the whole affair I found myself mostly confused, unsure of what I should be feeling about a film that so unapologetically, even carelessly, careens through such topics as incest and child rape.  One thing was for sure – I wasn’t entertained.

Then again, entertainment is the one thing I’m positive A Serbian Film doesn’t set out to be.

The story follows Milos, an ex-porn star who took an early retirement so that he could spend time with his budding family.  Unfortunately Milos’ savings (stashed away in his porn cache) are running dry, making his unwanted return to the industry he left behind all but inevitable.  Enter a former co-starlet who brings Milos an offer he can’t refuse: her art director acquaintance Vukmir wants him to star in his latest project, and promises a paycheck so enormous that Milos will never have to work again.  The catch is that the details of the project are to be kept secret from the actor, who is only to discover what is wanted of him once the cameras begin to roll.

Against his better judgement Milos accepts, realizing too late that his director is a bona fide psychotic and that his so-called art project is to be a record of real human suffering.  The actor attempts to flee the project when things start to get out of hand, but the creators (with an assist from a devilish doctor co-conspirator) drug Milos and force him to do their bidding against his will.

There’s nothing really new to be found in the writing for A Serbian Film, and I found the central snuff film concept rather uninteresting.  It’s good, then, that the screenplay by Aleksandar Radivojevic (Tears for Sale) and director Spasojevic ranks a few shades better than what one might expect.  A mid-film shift to a Memento-style framing device, with Milos running from location to location re-discovering what he has forgotten with the help of a collection of camcorder tapes, works quite well, and the combination of found film footage and his own memories is at times a potent one.  Most surprising are a few fleeting displays of honest humanity, to be found in early interactions between Milos, his wife and his young son.

But A Serbian Film hasn’t earned its status as a genuinely controversial film by way of its drama, and it is with the considerable scenes of sexual violence that the cruel creativity of the team behind the picture becomes apparent.   Contrary to what may be expected, it is the more restrained shocks that are the most chilling in their efficacy.  A shoot in which Milos is sucked off while footage of a young orphan eating an ice cream bar plays before him on television screens has plenty of creep factor in spite of how little we actually see, and a later shoot in which the actor, now in the role of surrogate father figure, is ordered to deflower a war orphan as part of a perverse right of passage is chilling even when the expected payoff fails to materialize.

Unfortunately restraint as showcased above is in short supply here, and the majority of the shocks rely on the repulsiveness of their visuals alone to get by.  Of these the only one that honestly had me squirming was a bit that seemed like a gruesome riff on a scene from D’Amato’s awful Porno Holocaust, with a woman forced to suffocate on an unknown assailant’s member after all of her teeth have been pulled.  Even the shock of that was short-lived, mitigated by an overriding sense of pointlessness.  Is squirm-inducement alone really all that these scenes were made for?

The film becomes more over the top as it progresses, courting controversy all the while.  Things inevitably go too far, with the transgressive violence eventually leaping headlong into absurdity.  A meaningless diversion in which Vukmir shows Milos one of his past works – something he calls ‘newborn porn’ (I’ll let you fill in the blanks) – should be the most repulsive moment of the film but instead plays like a joke in the poorest of possible taste.  The filmmakers’ refusal to control their penchant for visual debauchery leads them to create the increasingly unbelievable, scenes that leave the audience gasping not at the horrible acts on-screen but at the minds from whence they came.

There’s the potential for broad social commentary within A Serbian Film, an exercise in extreme violence from a country with a tumultuous recent past (an understatement, to be sure), and statements by the director reveal his intentions for the same.   It’s a shame that all that really comes through is the anger and unflinching nihilism behind it all, in evidence right down to the needlessly vile conclusion.  A Serbian Film is ultimately a victim of its own success, with whatever point there is to be made lost in its exploitative excesses.

in conclusion
Film: Unratable   Recommendation: None.

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