Monday, 30 January 2012

A Serbian Film (2010)

Provoke v. deliberately anger; cause (an adverse reaction). - Provocation n. - provocative adj. [Collins Gem English Dictionary].

The aftermath of my first viewing of ‘A Serbian Film’ was such an angry stir in my emotions caused by having witnessed the devastating ruining of a good man, his beautiful wife and their little cherub son. This is something writer Aleksandar Radivojevic and director Srđan Spasojević sets up so well. They let us into the home of this three unit family depicting nothing but the warmth and happiness of love between husband, wife and son only for it to be completely destroyed in the most depraved, sick and twisted way imaginable in the movie’s climax. One man’s huge risk in getting involved in something he is completely in the dark about to provide a financially comfortable future for the family he loves so dearly to get them out of their drab lives in Serbia results in their sacrifice and their heart breaking, tragic, complete and utter destruction.

After hearing so much about the controversy regarding the graphic imagery, depicting such putrid subject matter this is exactly what I was anticipating as I was not looking for any deep meanings despite what the writer and director was saying in interviews about the film’s undertones. However, this is one thing I did get that first time an important question the movie asks its audience - How far would you go so provide for your family? All I could feel was the anger and depression that the movie deliberately provoked from me by Miloš’s soul raping plight into hell and the unknowing harm he brought upon his beloved wife and son.

A semi-retired porn star Miloš (Srđan Todorović) now lives with his wife Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic) and little son sometimes doing the odd bit of work performing in cameos to earn money for his family. Despite struggling to make ends meet financially, they are all very happy together. Miloš’s brother Marko (Slobodan Beštić) is a corrupt police officer who is jealous of the happy family life his sibling has. Miloš is offered the opportunity by a former co-star Leylah (Katarina Žutić) to star in a pornographic art film with a huge bumper payday that will get him out of the world of porno and set up his family for life so they can escape Serbia. He agrees to meet with the director. The independent filmmaker Vukmir (Sergej Trifunović) a very wealthy and well-connected pornographer wants to use Miloš for his unique ability to get an erection and keep it without the need of stimulation either visually or physically. The sum of money Vukmir offers Miloš is too substantial for him to turn down but there is a catch, as he must not know anything about the plot until filming begins. Very suspiciously uncomfortable about this but knowing that the money is too good to be true he reluctantly agrees.

To his horror when shooting begins, he discovers that he has been cast in a snuff movie with the themes of necrophilia and paedophilia. Drugged when he tries to quit, he wakes up in his bed at home three days later covered in blood with no memory of what has happened except for brief flashbacks and he finds that his wife and child are missing. Seeing one of Vukmir’s cars outside he gets in and drives to Vukmir’s residence to try to piece together what happened and to find his family. Miloš finds a room where he has a vivid flashback of a brutally evil scene he was forced to perform in while under the influence of a concoction of cattle aphrodisiac that turned him into a crazed sex maniac. “Viagra for Balls!” so says Vukmir.” He further exclaims towards the end of the shoot “The magic of rigor mortis!” as he directs Miloš. This should give you an idea of what this foul horrid sequence will fuck up your mind with. Miloš then finds some tapes and witnesses more acts that are extremely revolting involving him. He then follows the trail from where the last piece of footage left off. To say what he discovers will shock you is a severe understatement.

I put myself through the tortuous experience again. During this second sitting, the most brutal explicitly graphic nastiest scenes of sexual violence - the most potent imagery of incest, necrophilia, paedophilia and rape - were still stomach churning to watch. However, I then referred back to specific moments in two earlier films ‘Salo: 100 Days of Sodom’ (1975) and ‘Men Behind the Sun’ (1988) and while ‘A Serbian Film’ is definitely a contender for one of the most disgusting and disturbing movies ever made it certainly would not be crowned king of the vile pile. When compared to these titles it is a runner up in the vomit inducing stakes but it is superior in terms of quality filmmaking. I hate ‘Salo’ and ‘Men Behind the Sun’ not for their extreme content but just how they are actually depicted. There is no sympathy shown towards the victims whatsoever as they are not treated as real characters with us made as voyeurs through the eyes of the evil men committing the atrocities. Here the protagonist is the victim and forced to relate to him from the outset with the invitation into his home we feel for him when he unknowingly destroys the two people he loves the most and in turns destroys himself.

One scene here made me want to put my foot through the fucking screen! This is when Vukmir shows Miloš one of his evil pieces of art on a projection after Miloš has just told him he is quitting the production. Miloš’s reaction to the atrocity that he witnesses is exactly ours too and he storms off outraged as any loving Father or any morally sound human being would do. Vukmir asks Miloš as he hurriedly exits the room “Can it be you don’t get it?” and exclaims, “This is a new genre, Miloš!” following it up with “Newborn Porn! Newborn!” That says it all really in what this wretched act of paedophilia so explicitly depicts. This could metaphorically be saying that we are all fucked from birth.

I really appreciated it more this viewing for its artistic levels through its sub-text. I always knew during my first watch that it was a technically very well made movie - good script, exceptionally directed, pitch perfect pace, excellent characterization, very strong performances, gorgeous lighting, beautiful cinematography, nicely edited and a super cool atmospherically enhanced musical score. All greatly executed on such a low budget it is a stylistic treat in that respect. However, reading more into the film this second time around I got what it was saying with its underlying themes that many other critics have been quick to dismiss as unconvincing and have berated the movie for just trying to be as disgusting as it possibly can - obscene for the sake obscenity.

I got the social commentary on the state of Serbian cinema and the censorship that represses filmic artists from achieving the creativity that they have the potential to fulfil with the governing laws of the bureaucrats that hold back their artistic strengths. I know little of the country of Serbia and its political turmoil but I do know that art great art is often born of the frustration of oppression and the pain that it induces. One medium of art is of course film and through celluloid filmmakers can express themselves creatively and put forth their messages much more so than in verbal conversation. This movie powerfully conveys the thoughts and feelings of two very angry men the one behind the computer keyboard (writer) and the one behind the camera (director) that have used this genre as a vessel to express their repressed emotions. Miloš is the victim representing the filmmakers manipulated by Vukmir who is the embodiment of authority forcing an artist into doing something he does not want to do. Radivojevic and Spasojević much like David Cronenberg have injected metaphors into the human flesh serving as an allegory hence the pornographic premise with Miloš’s body whored out against his own will; the filmmakers conveying they feel violated.

‘A Serbian Film’ is a movie made by passionate filmmakers with guts and vision releasing their rage upon the screen with compelling vigour executing extreme sequences of sexual violence all wrapped in a metaphorical narrative of pornographic depravity that in turn provokes anger from you. If you are a fan of shocking cinema of filmmaking that seeks this kind of reaction from you then you need to see this film. It is a remarkably repulsive, sick, intelligently crafted anti-establishment message.

**** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.


  1. Nice review, so to speak. I finished the film a couple of days ago and had to let things settle before dropping by to check out your review.

    I haven't gone for that double dip yet, I think I'll see if some buds want to watch it with me.

    Anyway, I think you're spot on, not only with the film, but the genre- and especially Salo.

    1. Thanks, mate. Despite all the depraved things I read about 'A Serbian Film' before I watched it I still was very shocked by the content. The first act of the movie is so warm and even has humour setting the viewer up to be totally fucked up by the atrocities they see later.

  2. You've written a terrific review, and I cannot agree with you more. I really liked this film and I found it to be very moving. I also appreciated the moments of dark humor strewn throughout, though obviously none of it is at the forefront. It's certainly not the most politically correct film out there. Having said that, however, I think it truly is a masterpiece.

  3. Try watching the other controversial serbian movie from that year. Djordjevic LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG was in my opinion, way better than his "older meaner brother". The message is nearly the same but here it´s delivered in an more subversive "tearing your guts from the inside-out" kinda style. Pardon my english but i´m one of those lost ones writing you straight outha Krautland, Nürnberg to be exactly. Love your blog!

    1. Thank you very much, mate. I just watched the trailer for TLADOAPG and I'm getting hold of a copie right now. Thanks for the tip.

  4. No problemo. Would be nice if you´ll share your thoughts on that one afterwards. It was such a small independent production and it was bad luck that SERBIAN FILM was released in that same year. So it didn´t get the attention that it would have deserved. SERBIAN FILM is real flashy compared to TLADOAPG. The guys from BILDSTÖRUNG, a german DVD label, show a real taste when it comes to releasing underground or never before pressed stuff. I don´t know if they got the english subtitles on their discs but it surly worth a check-out:
    If you´re not comfortable with links on your blog just erase it. I didn´t mean to bang on the commercial drum, just lovin movies.
    Lots of love

    1. I'll definitely write a piece on it when I get around to it. No problem about the link that's fine.

  5. My thoughts exactly. Excellent review. I wasn't expecting to like the show when I went into it, but I ended up really appreciating it. I took in the social commentary, all of it and was quite moved by it. I'm also glad that you made mention of Salo, even though I believe it to be the better movie as it is more politically grounded, A Serbian Film works as well because as you said, it puts us in the spot of the victim.
    One thing I want to note is that I think A Serbian Film is also a commentary on the exploits committed under the capitalist system which is dominating the vast majority of the globe today on top of all the other things that you have mentioned.
    Good review. Cheers, hope to read more of your stuff!

    1. Thank you very much, John. My main criticism of ‘Salo’ is how the victims aren’t portrayed as real characters and the narrative is mostly from the perspectives of the antagonists. ‘A Serbian Film’ has real characters that the viewer can relate to and sympathize with. Yeah your observation of the film having further sub-text on capitalism is feasible holding much weight.