The controversial horror flick A Serbian Film lit up the festival circuit last year with shock and eww. It even led to charges of child pornography being brought against the director of Spain’s Sitges Film Festival just for showing it. So, me being me, I naturally had to see it for myself. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Well, I needn’t have bothered. There’s nothing to see here really. Oh sure, there are horrors aplenty, but A Serbian Film is just a toothless celluloid tiger representing nothing more than an hour and 43 minutes I’d rather have back. Calculated for maximum shock and outrage, it doesn’t even succeed on its own terms because it takes cover behind flimsy allegory. “I can get away with showing you this,” the director is saying, “because really it’s about the horror of recent Serbian history.” That’s nonsense. If you really want to be outrageous then spare me your justifications.

The story revolves around a retired porn star named Milos, a famed cocksman prized for his ability to achieve an erection on demand who now leads a dull domestic life with his pretty wife and little boy. Needing cash and feeling a little emasculated, he’s coaxed out of retirement to perform in one last film, an un-scripted bit of supposed porn art being shot by a mysterious rich man. When Milos finds out he’s involved in a sadistic, pedophilia-steeped snuff film, he tries to quit but they drug him and he awakens three days later stained with someone else’s blood and having little memory of what has happened in the time gap. His gradual discovery of what he did and saw during those three days are the source of all of the controversy in A Serbian Film. The horror. The horror!

There are currently two versions of the film available to US audiences, a 98-minute NC-17 cut playing in a few theaters and a 103-minute unrated cut available online. I watched the unrated version, but even that has supposedly been slightly edited. Note: The rest of this paragraph spoils the worst of what the film has to offer so if you’re an idiot like me and plan to see it anyway, skip ahead to the next paragraph. If nothing else, you’ll have the element of surprise. On the other hand, if you don’t care and just want to know what all the fuss is about without having to sit through it yourself, read on. There are two acts that are kept completely off screen in the version I saw: the rape of a freshly born infant while the mother looks on smilingly and Milos’ anal rape of a young boy (which by the way we’re supposed to be shocked to learn is Milos’ own son but we’re not because we can see it coming a mile away). I assume these scenes are where the editing has taken place and are the source of controversy, but there are still plenty of other graphic acts on display for your revulsion. If the doggy style rape of a woman chained to a bed followed by her decapitation and still more rape while her stump of a neck spurts blood doesn’t turn your stomach, then surely the chained naked woman who has had her teeth pulled out and is then forced to perform bloody oral sex before being choked to death by the very same penis will.

The strange thing is I think these things sound worse on paper than they come across on screen. It’s disturbing, yes, but I think the impact of the film is watered down a bit when you go in knowing something unspeakably horrible is going to happen. If I’d seen the movie without any expectations or knowledge of what it was about, it’s possible I’d have been suitably horrified. At the same time though, there’s a deadening effect to knowing the filmmaker is just trying to provoke you. If it seemed like Srdjan Spasojevic had made the film for his own jollies, I might have been more disturbed. Instead, he’s obviously trying to push the audience’s buttons and to test how far they’re willing to go along with him. Instead of horror, I felt mostly annoyance and regret I’d gotten myself into the situation. At the same time, I was compelled to finish it so I could at least form a viable opinion of the whole thing.

As noted above, Spasojevic is trying for some kind of allegory about what happened in Serbia during and after the wars in the 90s. This is weak sauce, but I’ll allow there is some real horror in imagining what that experience must have been like that it led to the despair and rage that fuels this ugly little film. Where Spasojevic is possibly more successful is in raising some red flags about pornography and its impact on the people who make it and the people who consume it. There’s a scene at the beginning where Milos’ little boy of 7 or 8 has discovered one of his father’s old DVDs and is treated to an extended scene of dad plugging away at some woman in an alley. When I was that age, I might have stumbled across the odd Playboy or Penthouse and I think I turned out mostly ok, but what about this generation that is growing up with the internet where everything is permissible and anything is available? What kind of psychological impact is that going to have? I don’t know and Spasojevic doesn’t seem to either. I’m not even sure he cares or if he appreciates the irony that he’s a part of it, but it crossed my mind as I was watching the horrors of A Serbian Film unspool before me. So I guess there’s that.

In the end, a film like this draws much of its power by only being seen by a few yet talked about by many. It takes on the power of myth like the unseen monster in the closet. The more people who see it and call bullshit on it however, the less likely it will ever be remembered.

6 Responses to “A Serbian Film (2011)”

  1. I saw this depraved and sickening piece of garbage last night with Lucille and Broadway Bob at Manhattan’s Cinema Village.

    I am actually going with 0 (zero) stars, as I question the very existence of the film, which condemning it’s dearth of sociological, political or artistic value. It’s generously adorned with necrophelia, poronography and pedophila, and some head smashing and all kids of gratuitous violence. And all this stomach-churning human debasement in the name of some unattainable art?

    Yeah, when it’s not purposefully trying to make you heave, it’s busy boring you to death.

    This film truly has no reason to exist. It’s a affront to civility and human decency. Unlike Pasolini’s SALO, which it is foolishly compared to (SALO was a near-masterwork that employed symbols and political metaphors) this is the work of a novice with an extremely (and dangerously) sick and disturbed mind.

  2. As I said near the end, I think the filmmaker has a little something on his mind about the nature of pornography, that and the thriller setup is a relatively effective one. Those things keep me rating it higher than say the entirely useless Hobo with a Shotgun.

  3. This is my opinion: I don’t think that any of you have a clue what you are talking about.

    You wrote; “As noted above, Spasojevic is trying for some kind of allegory about what happened in Serbia during and after the wars in the 90s.”

    That’s not it at ALL. Haven’t you read any interviews with the filmmakers? They specifically stated that this is not a movie about the war. The movie is a symbolic statement of how the Serbian government, in the present, censors every piece of media that reaches the people. Movies and music are watered down to the point where it’s docile, mediocre and not thought-provoking in any imaginable way. And to someone who is born in the Balkan area I can understand what he is talking about because the stuff on TV in that country is completely brainless. Censorship is what created this movie.

    You also wrote; “Where Spasojevic is possibly more successful is in raising some red flags about pornography and its impact on the people who make it and the people who consume it.”

    I didn’t find any point in Milos kid watching pornography at all. I just found it kinda funny. To be honest it didn’t seem like they were trying to make a point with it at all, other then to perhaps show off the boys innocent nature. Watching porn awakens all of his questions about sexuality. He has no idea what it even is.

    Quite frankly you haven’t given much of a reason, what I can find, about why this movie is so awful. It seems that your problem is that it’s outrageous for the sake of being outrageous?

    Perhaps you are misinterpreting what is pushing the boundaries. You can look at this movie and say “they are just trying to freak people out” or you can say “they are trying to bring something new to the table in terms of horror”. This movie introduces something completely new when it comes to depravity. It is well-made and has a story, I really don’t think that they just sat down and tried to create something gross without putting any thought in it whatsoever because it’s obvious that they wanted to get something across.

    This is a horror movie that manages to make people cringe. Most horror movies nowadays don’t have that power. They are about the same old boring predictable shit. This movie is unique and makes you feel something. For that I think it deserves credit. It’s really easy to play off a movie as “trying too hard” when it’s stuff that is so extreme, stuff that you are so unfamiliar with, that it just becomes too much.

  4. No, I didn’t read any interviews with the filmmakers. I spent enough of my life watching the film and writing this review. I may have a different interpretation of the filmmaker’s “message” than the filmmaker himself, but he’s still hiding behind his message. This film wasn’t shocking or disturbing at all. You need more than sick imagery to freak me out.

    It’s awful by the very absence of there being anything good about it. It’s calculated to push buttons and mine were not pushed. It was tiresome, silly and annoying.

  5. A Balkan defending A SERBIAN FILM. Your loyalty is admirable but your artistic perceptions seem attached to what the filmmakers are asserting. Their film is crude, tedious and vile. If anyone is clueless as to it’s ultimate value (which is non-existent) it is you, I’m afraid.

  6. Tedius… an excellent description.

    I can imagine all kinds of horrible things, but showing them on a screen doesn’t make a movie edgy or daring. In this case, it makes it childish.

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