As shocking as what appears on screen in A Serbian Film is, it pales in comparison to the real horror that inspired this controversial but important film.
It’s no secret that Stephen Biro over at Unearthed Films acquired the distribution rights to Srdjan Spasojevic’s notorious A Serbian Film, and he is currently working on the supplemental material and accompanying documentary for the new uncut 4K Blu ray edition to be released in North America. But what was being kept a secret, and for some time too, was a very auspicious occasion for fans of extreme horror — an event that would grant attendees unprecedented access into one of the most debated movies within the genre.
If you have not yet dove into Spasojevic’s pool of provocative cinema, I’ll give you a brief rundown free of spoilers. And for those who have witnessed A Serbian Film, please bare with me a moment while I attempt to catch the others up to speed.
But first, I will say this…this movie is not for everyone. It has the tendency to elicit unexpected and intense responses. The movie has shocked, entertained, disgusted and downright confounded folks. I honestly believe every single person walks away from this film with a wonderfully unique experience, be it ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The ways Spasojevic and co writer Aleksandar Radivojevic decided to convey their thoughts and feelings may not be widely accepted or even understood, but you cannot deny the power of their creative decisions.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
A Serbian Film tells the tale of Milos, a man who adores his young son Stefan (Luka Mijatovic) and beautiful wife Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic), and has the pleasure of these feelings being reciprocated. Milos used to be a very successful porn star, making him legendary, but he made the choice to retire and attempt good ol’ family life. Unfortunately for him, bills begin to pile up, and his ability to provide is challenged.
Supported by his loving wife to do “one last job”, Milos connects with a seductive former colleague to discuss the potential, profitable return of his penis to the screen. The husband and father is intrigued with what is said during their meeting, as he secretly longs to be back in the lascivious limelight. Milos returns home to talk things over with his better half, and they decide he should go ahead and meet Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), the Director of this new ‘art film’.
Milos is soon picked up at his house by an unfriendly and unscrupulous associate of Vukmir named Rasa (Miodrag Krcmarik) and driven to an impressive estate, where the filmmaker is awaiting him. Vukmir is pleased to meet Milos, stroking his ego before he begins laying out his pitch to the desperate actor. Milos remains calm and attentive as Vukmir passionately yet vaguely explains what his picture is about — and what it will contain.
This does raise a concern with Milos. And when he questions the Director, he is met with a bit of sarcasm and is internally reminded of his desire to return to the industry. This longing, coupled with Vukmir’s persuasiveness and the money attached to the project, help make the decision easy for Milos to make.
As the filming commences with some alarm bells ringing in his poor head, Milos elects to have his police officer brother Marko (Slobodan Bestic) look into Vukmir. What’s so disconcerting is how fucking creepy and jealous his brother is and how oblivious Milos is to all of this. With the background check coming back satisfactory, the actor continues on with the ‘artful cinema’.
And this is where A Serbian Film picks up the pace and unapologetically continues to do so. The pounding score echoes the chaotic action that unfolds upon the screen — and helps share the ridiculous sense of dread focused on Milos and his family.
A BEAUTIFUL DISASTER
I feel if I were to continue in the description of events within the film, I would be doing those that have yet to see it, and the film itself, a disservice. There’s nothing quite like that first experience with Spasojevic’s movie, and I often enjoy being that asshole who introduces the unassuming to the unforgettable.
A Serbian Film is violent, bloody, and exquisitely shot. It pushes boundaries in every single fucking sense, and this new transfer to 4K is absolutely brilliant — with an intense improvement upon the sound and picture quality that you must see for yourself. It immediately grabs you by the throat, never loosening it’s Superhuman-like choke hold it has upon its audience. The film leaves your jaw agape through the majority of its run time, presenting itself in absolutely relentless fashion. Those that have completed this cinematic journey are left shook, and rightfully so.
The creators have said in the past the aim was to make a film that mirrored their view on life, not only in their region, but around the globe. The movie is perhaps becoming more and more a viable piece of moving social commentary with the recent state of affairs pretty much fucking everywhere. It’s scary out there, and good intentions are often met with despair, as in A Serbian Film.
Co writers Spasojevic and Radivojevic, along with cast and crew, wanted to make a movie with their sentiments about life in Serbia clear; it clearly fucking sucks.
During a Q & A conducted after the anticipated screening of A Serbian Film at the Downtown Independent Theatre in Los Angeles on May 18th, star Jelena Gavrilovic confirmed this. As did my boss of all people. While requesting the time off needed to travel to L.A. and attend the Serbian Film Exhibition, my General Manager, Azra, casually asked the nature of my trip. I answered, being a bit weary because of people’s preconceived notions about A Serbian Film.
To my surprise, Azra seemed interested in all this after hearing the title and began asking questions about the movie. Come to find out, she was born in Serbia, living there until she and her family were forced to flee the country to Germany…and then eventually here to America. My interest was beyond piqued to have the opportunity to hear from someone who lived there and would give me the honest rundown, so I kind of begged her to give me some of her time and let me ask her some questions. And she did just that.
Azra was about to let me know just how fucked up shit was over there, and I wasn’t quite prepared for what she had to share.
REAL LIFE HORROR
There are times in our History which I feel are sadly overlooked, or simply just not discussed. The turmoil in Serbia has seemingly been constant. But in the mid 1990s, an all out bloody brawl erupted. Thousands lost their lives, homes, and loved ones. I was aware of the civil unrest, but never knew it was to the degree Azra was describing. I quickly felt ashamed for being so ignorant to such atrocities being committed, despite the fact I was only a teen myself when the heavy shit was going down.
I sat, stunned (much like when I sit and watch A Serbian Film) as Azra recalled the time a missile actually fell near her home, causing damage, but not exploding. “It must’ve been a dud. It was so unreal. I was pretty young, 6 or 7, and my sister is a few years older than I am. The missile falling so close to us, so close to destroying everything we knew, really messed with her.” I was able to utter that it probably would’ve messed with me too.
Azra had my complete attention as she continued to speak of widespread starvation, being ousted from her home and trying to find safety among the chaos in her country, where in all honesty, the people just wanted a cohesive, fair government that represented the rich and multi ethnic/religious population. “There were concentration camps, slaughter in the streets…” Azra paused, looking down.
Now, my manager is a strong assertive woman. She has to be, she is in charge of a relatively young group of employees, is young herself, and has to crack the whip a bit — I get it. I have never heard her voice waver EVER or deny eye contact while speaking with someone, but I was about to experience just that with her.
Azra continued softly, “We (Azra, her mother and sister) saw something horrible, we were running and there was a young pregnant woman. The soldier grabbed her and took a metal clothes hanger and he…he stuck it in her…and aborted the baby.”
I sat wide-eyed, feeling overwhelmed with everything I was hearing. Imagine living in constant fear and having no sense of stability or structure or safety. Feeling lied to and ignored by the very powers that are fighting over the land you and your family and friends live upon, the heritage your people embraces and celebrates. A massive amount of oppressive political bullshit and attempted ethnic cleansing cost the lives of the very people these conflicting regimes claimed to be in support of.
No wonder there is immense anger and animosity. No wonder A Serbian Film is full of fucking, fucking over, and sheer fucking brutality.
Needless to say, I gained a whole new level of respect for my manager — and for Spasojevic’s flick and the metaphor behind it all. Watching it this time around took on a whole new meaning. And it was beyond fucking moving, because this time around, I’m seeing in the back of my head, the vicious everyday existence that was experienced.
Actress Jelena Gavrilovic helped convey this at the Q & A, saying, “They fuck you when you’re born, they fuck you when you live, they fuck you when you die.” She adds, “It’s a picture of our society.”
Srdjan has expressed these same feelings in the past. But to hear, in person, one of the stars so vehemently share this outlook brings into perspective how dedicated the whole cast and crew was on A Serbian Film. Everyone involved on the production seemed to refuse to compromise or to give in. Jelena even said, “You should not make compromise, be true as an actor.”
They all had have enough of that, and this film was their way of protesting how life was for them. So to see and hear so many discredit A Serbian Film — to take it at only its most base, face value — is frustrating to say the least.
A SERBIAN FILM: A LOVE STORY
A Serbian Film is a glossy rendering of some of the most questionable and provocative themes in a film, and that may make it difficult for some to watch. To see all the over the top imagery so well presented instead of in grainy, abysmal detail might add to the discomfort levels reached for some viewers. To me though, it’s impressive. And it’s also impressive that Srdjan acquired all these funds independently for this, his very first feature, and that it is incredibly well made and well acted.
He hails from a country where moviemaking is funded by the government, and I’m sure his vision wasn’t well received in the least. He even had several labs in Europe refusing to transfer his digital footage onto film, because of their objection to the material, barely making it in time to premiere in Austin, Texas at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.
He developed Contra Film solely in the aid of making A Serbian Film (I’m hoping he exerts his filmmaking muscle on other worthy projects). He very much wanted the opportunity to shoot on film, but that just simply wasn’t an option. What is notable however, is that Srdjan was not only the first in Serbia, but the region, to fully film a feature on digital equipment.
I deeply admire the talent and audacity needed to make a movie like A Serbian Film.
I WENT TO THE SERBIAN FILM EXHIBITION, AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS AMAZING APPRECIATION FOR THE FILM
There are very few films I have experienced in my lifetime that have left me equally as speechless. It’s a film that immediately made its home on my personal Favorite Films list. I sadly missed an opportunity to meet Srdjan in 2016 at the Los Angeles Days of the Dead Convention and would often piss and moan about this fact. So when Stephen Biro announced the details to the Serbian Film Exhibition for May 18th through the 21st, I became fucking ecstatic.
To have the opportunity to see the movie on the Big Screen, with other fans, the exhibition at Lethal Amounts Gallery and the filmmaker and star present…well, it was too good to pass up. A ticket to the madness took only 25 of my hard earned dollars — and was well worth every fucking cent.
The Downtown Independent Theatre graciously played host for the screening of A Serbian Film on Friday May 18th, with fans gathering outside prior to doors opening at 7 p.m. The theatre itself was a stellar selection for this affair, allowing patrons to purchase beer and snacks before heading into the sleek and clean auditorium that generated excellent picture and sound. A perfect venue for sharing the new beautiful and brutal 104 minute 4K restoration.
Biro himself sat at the door, warmly greeting and checking people in, thanking all for coming out and distributing mini movie posters. We claimed a spot about 10 rows from the screen and centered. As I was proudly munching on my popcorn and sipping on my cocktail, Director Joe Lynch finds a seat in the row in front of mine. I kind of look around and see if anyone else has noticed who just sat down with the rest of us to happily enjoy a beer and A Serbian Film, but it seemed like he entered under the radar of most.
I happen to make eye contact, and we tell him that his latest flick Mayhem was awesome. Lynch smiles and gives us a genuine “thank you” but closely follows with, “but not as awesome as this” as he motions to the screen. We laugh, nodding in agreement. And, as if on cue, the lights dim and give way to the opening of the film. There was a brief round of applause, but the vibe of the crowd was that we were all focused on the film.
I honestly thought we as an audience would be more interactive, perhaps a bit rowdy, but that wasn’t the case. There was of course someone among us who was loud and proud to recite the famous “Newborn Porn!” line. But for the most part, we were, for lack of a better term, well behaved. It was as if us fans were giving reverence to a piece of moviemaking that never properly received it in the past. Either that, or we were all saving the debauchery for the VIP Party afterwards!
Most appeared to have enjoyably endured the screening, with a large round of applause and howls of appreciation at the finale of the film. These continued as actress Jelena Gavrilovic and Director Srdjan Spasojevic, along with Unearthed Films Founder and President Stephen Biro, made their way towards the front.
Stephen begins the Q & A with the all important question, “Who here was watching the film for the first time?” Quite a few hands were raised. Srdjan and Jelena were very forthcoming with questions, ranging from who are their influences to how they feel about the upcoming re release, the metaphor behind A Serbian Film, and several others.
Spasojevic was asked that night if the end result was pretty close to what he imagined for his first feature, and the filmmaker admitted that yes it was. Unearthed Films cameras were rolling throughout that evening and the weekend to help capture highlights and fan interactions for The Serbian Film Documentary.
THE MEET AND GREET
Before heading over just a mile or so to the Lethal Amounts gallery, I approached Srdjan outside of the theatre and asked if he wouldn’t mind signing the baby onesie we brought for him and Jelena to autograph. He did almost a bit of a double take and chuckled as I presented it to him.
The man behind the camera for one of the most horrifying, misunderstood and extreme films of our time is rather soft-spoken but polite and thankful. He’s pretty fucking tall too.
I think he really got a kick out of it, because he even took a selfie with the Newborn sized onesie. It made my fucking year to see Srdjan laugh and smile, pose with it. I hope it was somehow gratifying for him to see all the fans make their way to the screening and the weekend long exhibit to celebrate his film on this unparalleled scale, especially after all the bullshit and censorship.
Jelena also signed it outside the Downtown Independent. She was so delightful, all smiles, and revealed that the first scene she had to shoot with co star Srdan Todorovic (who plays Milos) was the difficult and intimate exchange between the two, when she asks why he hasn’t “fucked her like the others” (referring to his fellow porn stars).
This particular scene is intense, and I could only imagine this being the icebreaker between a pair of actors on set. She went on to say that Spasojevic insisted that this also be the last scene filmed between herself and Milos. Without even thinking I ask her which take was used for the film. She thoughtfully smiles at me and exclaims, “the second of course!”
Her and I banter a bit about acting and her time on set of A Serbian Film, and she not for one second seems to be ashamed or even question her commitment to the production. Both her and Srdjan express a prideful kinship collaborating on this picture. Jelena is beautiful inside and out, completely approachable, with a singing voice to be reckoned with (I saw a video of her belting out Janis Joplin’s classic ‘Cry Baby’ and it was downright exhilarating).
This was an uncommon experience for Gavrilovic, a trip to the United States, and she seemed thrilled to be at the Exhibition meeting fans after watching the film in its entirety so many years after its completion.
Everyone eventually migrates to Lethal Amounts, just a short distance from the screening. We had a taste of what was to be highlighted at the Gallery, being privileged to assist Stephen, Srdjan and company somewhat the day before, gaining a glimpse of what was to come. It gave me goosebumps as a fan of the film, as a fan of extreme horror. But when I walk into Lethal Amounts after subjecting my senses to a superior theatrical screening of A Serbian Film, it was almost overwhelming.
The walls were lined with storyboards, props, and costumes, all available to bid on, to bring home a piece of moviemaking history. The ‘Beheading Bed’ home of the “unique magic of rigor mortis” was on display, encouraging photo opportunities for fans. So many memorable scenes within the movie were now available for mass consumption and critique. The soundtrack played within the Gallery, giving the perfect pulse to this shindig.
It was crowded, and people were gladly consuming the free liquid libations while walking among and appreciating the wide range of movie memorabilia. Stephen Biro just handed us everyday extreme horror fans a Golden Ticket, and it was fucking glorious. Indie filmmaker Shane Ryan (My Name Is ‘A’ by Anonymous, Amateur Porn Star Killer Trilogy) also took a gander at the Serbian Film Exhibition, giving an on camera interview for the Documentary, among others.
I simply was beside myself as I mingled with fellow fans and scoped out the genius pieces of practical effects, pleased with making the trek to Los Angeles. The upcoming Unearthed Films release of A Serbian Film in 4K, with an onslaught of unreleased footage and featurettes, is something to behold. I am patiently awaiting to make its acquaintance.
But until then, I will hold tight the memories of the Exhibition and my excursion West to help support extreme horror.