The Establishing Shot: A Serbian Film Review it's not for everyone

Thursday, May 05, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

A Serbian FilmAfter various calendar clashes and just been plain put off by the hype I finally got around to seeing A Serbian Film.

I first heard about A Serbian Film when it caused some hoopla by withdrawing from Fright Fest last year. The British Board of Film Classification ruled that it needed 4 minutes to be cut from it. Either Fright Fest or the makers of A Serbian Film were unhappy and said if A Serbian Film cannot be screened in it's entirety as intended - they would rather not show it. So in the end it was not shown to the public. This may have well worked in it's favour as the ensuing discussion and hype raised it's profile some what.

A Serbian Film Trailer

Before seeing it I was aware that it was being sold as controversial and an allegory for exploitative post civil war life in Serbia. It has also been censored and definitely not agreeing with everyone - "a film, with no redeeming qualities". So sometime over the long weekend, late at night I opened the rather slick packaging of A Serbian Film and slid it into my media centre.

A Serbian Film starts off with a message from Director Srdjan Spasojevic, which I skipped until after the film. But Spasojevic tells us something to the effect of:
"they never meant to shock with A Serbian Film but it is a metaphor for how the Serbian people feel after 20 years of war, the veneer of political correctness of their leadership whilst their people are being raped till death and after. What you are about to see is a rough and uncompromising look at the beast of not just Serbia but our times."
This is not a direct quote I'm paraphrasing from memory, but you get the point. Although I hear the words I'm unsure of their intent. Spasojevic seems very self aware and is intelligent enough to present his case tongue in cheek. So although the whole rape of Serbia resonates with me I'm unsure if A Serbian Film is pure exploitation been sold as allegory by filmmakers that understand the business of film making or not.

What follows for the next hour and a half leaves me completely engaged, grimacing, squinting, being thankful that my wife wasn't awake to see this, deeply sad for the human condition, genuinely shocked and like watching a car crash, I'm unable to turn away as it sinks deeper and deeper into territory I have never seen on screen before. All the time I keep thinking it's only a film, it's only a film. And when it's over there is no relief, just a feeling of empty sadness.

My first impressions of A Serbian Film are that it is very well made, the camera work, soundtrack, the acting and style of cinematography lift a relatively low production to art house. This is a top notch and belie it's subject matter and origins.

We are introduced to Milos or rather Milosh played by Srdjan Todorovic, who is an ex porn-star in the vein of Rocco Siffredi & Nacho Vidal. Having turned his back on porn Milos, now has a young family that he is very convincingly trying to look after. But the prospects for an ex porn-star in the already difficult environment of Serbia are lean on the ground. Out of the blue an ex porn colleague Lejla (Katarina Zutic) contacts Milos with an offer from wealthy investors of making high class art porn the likes of which Serbia has never seen before. After meeting the poet/philosopher/artist/genius behind the new art porn Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) Milos is is still unconvinced. But after checking Vukmir's past as a doctor caring for young victims of the Serbian civil war, his wife Marija's (Jelena Gavrilovic) approval and the overriding need to look after his family Milos agrees.

What follows is a brutal, R rated, very well made descent into frustration and madness. I'm not going to go any deeper into the actual story as my blog would probably be switched to adult content certification and more of a concern my search stats would be completely thrown out by the number of new visitor types I would be receiving.

After some thought I guess I would compare A Serbian Film to how my teenage mind was drop kicked by my first viewing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Suffice to say where Eli Roth's Hostel and Joel Schumacher's Nicolas Cage starrer 8mm scratched the surface of an evil dark underworld A Serbian Film takes us there in vivid and visceral colours. With almost every perversion or taboo addressed in some way. And just when you feel yourself becoming horribly desensitised to the humiliating brutal depravity of the imagery on your screen the film-makers turn it up one masterfully sickening notch at a time.

While A Serbian Film captures a a world that exists and we mostly turn a blind eye to. A Serbian Film is hard to watch and even harder to recommend, not because it's not a good film but because it's subject matter is so tragically dark and it does not shy away from showing it visually.

The acting from the cast is astoundingly credible given the subject matter and you can't help but sympathise with Milos despite his lifestyle choices, and that is part of what the films message is.

Regarding the political allegory - In the extras there is an interesting QA session hosted by Frightfest's Alan Jones and the makers of A Serbian Film in which the whole political allegory is brought up, and Srdjan Spasojevic is completely upfront that at the time he was not thinking of an allegory but rather just expressing feelings about life in Serbia.

One of the themes that A Serbian Film touches on is film imitating life, life imitating art and I'm still unsure of where A Serbian Film sits.

A Serbian Film

A Serbian Film Review it's not for everyone

Director: Srdjan Spasojevic
Stars: Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic and Jelena Gavrilovic

A Serbian Film is available right now on DVD or VOD