Digital Dismemberment: While anxiously awaiting the Ultimate Director’s Cut of A Serbian Film from Unearthed Films, I review the 2011 DVD release.
Director: Srdjan Spasojevic
Producer: Srdjan Spasojevic, Nikola Pantelic and Dragoljub Vojnov
Special Effects: Miroslav Lakobrija, Nenad Gajic and Samir Bastoni
Cast: Srdjan ‘Zika’ Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Slobodan Bestic, Katarina Zutic, Luka Mijatovic, Ana Sakic, Lena Bogdanovic, Miodrag Krcmarik, Nenad Herakovic, Carni Djeric, Andela Nenadovic, Tanja Divnic, Lidija Pletl, Marina Savic, Natasa Aksentijevic, Goran Macura and Miss Mici
Release Date: 10/25/11
Milos, a retired porn star, leads a normal family life with his wife Maria and six-year old son Petar in tumultuous Serbia, trying to make ends meet. A sudden call from his former colleague Layla will change everything. Aware of his financial problems, Layla introduces Milos to Vukmir — a mysterious, menacing and politically powerful figure in the pornographic business. A leading role in Vukmir’s production will provide financial support to Milos and his family for the rest of their lives.
A contract insists on his absolute unawareness of a script they will shoot. From then on, Milos is drawn into a maelstrom of unbelievable cruelty and mayhem devised by his employer, “the director” of his destiny. Vukmir and his cohorts will stop at nothing to complete his vision. In order to escape the living cinematic hell he’s put into, and save his family’s life, Milos will have to sacrifice everything. His pride, his morality, his sanity, and maybe even his own life.
Every once and a while a film comes along that shakes the very foundations of the genre and the industry, so much so that the general viewing public reviles the film and does everything it can to bury it in the name of good taste and public decency.
Films like FREAKS (1932), THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), S.S. HELL CAMP (1977), I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), GUINEA PIG: THE DEVIL’S EXPERIMENT (1985), NEKROMANTIK (1987), THE BURNING MOON (1992), MARTYRS (2008), VOMIT GORE TRILOGY (2006-2010) and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) (2011) are but a few of the films that immediately spring to mind when you think of films that were WAY ahead of their time.
But Srdjan Spasojevic’s A SERBIAN FILM may very well be at the top of the list. While certainly not the most bloody or gory of any of the films listed, the sheer sexual sadism and relentlessness brutality puts it on a level that most film makers never even dare to dream of. Like many of the films listed, A SERBIAN FILM also has many levels of subtle and not-so-subtle subtext that many viewers may not initially see or even seek out, particularly in the social commentary department…
According to the director, A Serbian Film “is a parody of modern politically correct films made in Serbia, which are financially supported by foreign funds” and that it “denounces the fascism of political correctness”, which many who view it scoff at without actually looking deeper than the violence on the screen. In fact, Serbia’s film industry is heavily subsidized by the government, mainly through grants approved by the Film Centre of Serbia. While the country is not the worst in terms of economics and political landscape, it does have a tumultuous history with ethnic problems (like many countries) and a history of inner turmoil.
A Serbian Film hints that the situation may be more dire for the everyday person, with jobs hard to come by and financial strains the norm. At the time the film was made Serbia was (and to some degree still is) a source, transit, and destination country for women and girls trafficked transnationally and internally for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.
The character of Milos certainly wrestles with taking up the role in the film offered by Vukmir, with his only motivation seeming to be it is the only way to provide for his family. In turn, Vukmir appears to take advantage of the situation as he is making films for high dollar clientele around the world in a place where the rules are fast and loose. Taking advantage of those who would not be missed in the name of “high art” and the all mighty dollar, morality and the sanctity of life seem of little consequence to those involved.
The film centers around themes of sexual sadism, rape, snuff, pedophilia and necrophilia through the eyes of a mentally unhinged director and his crew, all who have no regard for humanity and they all seem to take great delight in the suffering of others. That is even a point that is brought up by Vukmir as he does everything in his power to persuade Milos that it is that very element that his clients want to see.
In perhaps one of the most ghastly scenes ever put to film, Vukmir proudly shows Milos what he considers to be the new wave of “high art pornography” as he shows him “Newborn Porn” (it is exactly what it implies). Milos, sickened by what he has all ready been put through, attempts to leave the project but is later forced back into it by being kidnapped and drugged to the point of almost hypnotic submission.
To be fair to the character of Milos, he is kept in the dark about what the film is about and is put into situations on the spot with no way out until he is drugged and forced to act out the director’s twisted vision. It should not be lost on the audience that Milos is disgusted by what is going on when he finally figures out the horrific plans of Vukmir and even contacts his brother (who turns out to be a dirty cop) for help.
The hopelessness of his situation is heart wrenching and adds another layer of emotional content to A Serbian Film that may be overlooked by general viewing audiences.
The technical aspects of the film are quite stunning. The set locations are both haunting yet beautiful, giving the film a polished and dangerous feel. At times the film boasts a rich and colorful pallet, especially the scenes that show Milos with his wife and son. At other times it has a washed out and drained quality to it that helps to convey the emotional torment of Milos and the sadism of the director and his crew.
The editing and pacing of the film help to set the tone as well. As the film becomes darker and delves into the madness that begins to unfold, it becomes more frantic and disjointed. The sound is bold and powerful, leading you by the hand into a spiraling din of madness and torment. The camera work is quite stunning as well, shifting between straight camera work and camcorder footage. Both are highly effective in the scenes in which they are used and give the film more of a claustrophobic yet expansive view.
As stated above, this is not the bloodiest or goriest film ever made. But what grue is shown is horrifying and fantastic in its vision and scope.
The cast must also be praised foe their acting and the handling of the subject matter. The sheer grimness and nihilistic manner in which the film is shown had to be a grinding on the entire cast and crew, in particular for the people playing Milos and his family. The rest of the characters are shown for the most part to be self-serving and cold, a great contrast to the love Milos shows for his family.
In particular, the character of Vukmir is interesting because of the initial passion and drive he has for his artistic vision, but as the film goes on you can see just how unhinged and uncaring he is. While never being sure why we never see Milos trying to find another means to support his family, it can be appreciated that he struggles with taking the role and how it effects his wife and son.
He further demonstrates that he is not the monster the film maker is by refusing to do harm or violence to others in the film until he is forced into a drugged state where he no longer controls his own actions. You actually feel pity for him, his family and the unfortunate victims of the film — while at the same time are praying that Vukmir and his crew suffer for what they are doing.
The subject matter of snuff, necrophilia and pedophilia are certainly not new to the genre, but this may be the one film that puts them all together in a package that will make you wince but keep watching at the same time.
While it can be argued that a film like this has no place in modern society, I feel like its message is important to show people that these things really exist and go on all over the world. In a time when political correctness is dominating the world right now, a film such as this is important on many levels. The sheer cruelty that exists in the world should not be hidden from the public. Simply ignoring the many issue that are brought up and shown during the film is not the way to solve them.
Arguments will always be made that A Serbian Film goes way too far over the line and it is uncomfortable, but that is exactly what a film like this is meant to do. Boundary pushing cinema is not safe, nor should it ever be. In many ways, I can harken this film to a classic like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in the sense that your imagination actually makes you see much more that what you actually saw (at least until the true uncut version is released by Unearthed Films).
Overall, this is a bleak and oppressive film to say the least, but that does not make it trash cinema nor does it advocate pedophilia, necrophilia or snuff.
In many ways, I feel A Serbian Film points out how wrong these subjects are — and to ignore them or the film is a disservice to those who have experienced them. Certainly not a film for everyone, this is a film that warrants self exploration. The boundaries of good taste are stretched and will make you look at humanity in a different light. In the end, that is what great and thought provoking cinema should do.
My only lament is that I feel A Serbian Film could have been used as a learning tool had there been some special features been added to the disc. Hearing interviews with the director and the cast and crew would have been highly enlightening to say the least. Again, with the Unearthed Films release pending, hopefully these issue will be resolved.
And, hopefully, this film will take its place in horror history as a film that is dangerous, shocking, sickening and abhorrent…while at the same time busting social taboos that many great genre films have done in the past.
Movie Rating: 4 out of 5
DVD Rating: 2 out of 10