Today: February 24, 2024
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Serbian Film, A Cinema

Putting the porn back into torture porn. And the torture. Lots of torture.

A raw scream of rage from the tortured psyche of a wounded nation, A Serbian Film finally arrives on UK shores with an unprecedented 49 compulsory cuts ordered by the BBFC,
totalling over 4 minutes of screentime. And it’s still the most
shocking, offensive, upsetting, transgressive and angry film most of you
are never going to see.

Struggling to support his beautiful wife and young son, retired porn star Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is tempted to return to the screen by former co-star Layla (Katarina Zutic) and visionary porn director Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic),
who offers him a life-changing sum of money to star in his latest
project, the ultimate porn movie that’s a true political and artistic
statement. The only catch is Milos doesn’t get to see the script. He’ll
simply be put into a series of scenarios and expected to react
accordingly. Against his better judgement, Milos agrees. But Vukmir is
shooting no ordinary porn film and as his scenes become progressively darker and more violent, Milos,
disgusted, tries to quit. Only to wake up three days later, beaten and
covered in blood (not all of it his own), with no memory. Forcing
himself to retrace his steps, Milos descends into his own personal hell,
as he uncovers the truth behind Vukmir’s twisted vision…

Surfing a wave of controversy that has seen it banned, cut and vilified around the world, A Serbian Film is just as bleak and horrific as the tabloids would have you believe featuring unflinching, explicit scenes of sex, violence, rape, murder, paedophilia and incest. The Citizen Kane of snuff movies,
A Serbian Film is fun for the whole family: children are raped by their
parents, a woman is beaten and decapitated during sex, a man delivers a
newborn baby and rapes it in front of its mother. In a scene that quite
literally has to be seen to be believed, one particularly unpleasant
character is ‘skullfucked’ to death. Depravity follows perversion until ultimately the audience is left numb, psychologically raped
by the horrors they’ve witnessed. And that’s why A Serbian Film is one
of the most powerful, disturbing, provocative, brilliant films you’re
ever likely to see.

Gradually sucking the viewer in, A Serbian Film’s first 45 minutes
could be that of any slightly leftfield, arthouse thriller as we’re
introduced to the cash-strapped Milos and his family and made to care
about them. We see Milos seduced by the promise of wealth and freedom
despite his misgivings about the project he’s gotten involved in. In a
Rocky-style montage we watch him mentally and physically prepare for his
new role; kicking the booze, exercising to get in shape, meditating. We
follow him as he is cast adrift in a mystery that owes us much to David Lynch as it does Paul Schrader. As Milos tries to make sense of the world he has stumbled into, first-time director Srdjan Spasojevic ratchets up the tension, aided immensely by Sky Wikluh’s
buzzing industrial score, building a palpable sense of dread and
expectation before unleashing hell. While most horror films are an
exercise in delayed gratification – we want something bad to happen, we
need something bad to happen and then the bad thing happens and we get
to experience that sublime release of tension and the vicarious
excitement of danger – the second half of A Serbian Film is an almost unwatchable visual and mental assault on the audience. Spasojevic doesn’t just rub our noses in deravity; he drowns us in it, making us both victims and accomplices.

Just as Pasolini’s Salo was an indictment of the excesses, cruelties
and corruption of mind and state in Fascist Italy, A Serbian Film is an
attempt to address the horrors perpetrated by both the state and the
people during the course of over a decade of political turmoil,
genocidal warfare and ethnic cleansing, where rape and terror were
little more than tools to suppress the populace. While Milos is driven
to destruction by the fury of what he’s done and what’s been done to
him, every frame of A Serbian Film drips with the fury of Serbia’s recent history.
Milos and Vukmir are both victims and victimisers; Vukmir just has more
control and an awareness of his place in the world. As he dementedly
rails against the pornography of the victim culture, Vukmir is a lucid,
seductive presence. Driven, passionate and completely insane, he’s the
personification of the Serbian state, his cinematic atrocities mirroring
those committed in reality. Beaten, drugged and raped, Milos is the
victim forced into the role of oppressor, becoming the tool through
which Vukmir can make real his vision, a vision that ultimately destroys
them both.

While the onscreen violence in A Serbian Film is shocking and horrific,
much of it revealed in flashback or through the hazy camcorder footage
Milos watches to try to jumpstart his recollection of events, the film,
unlike the more palatable Hollywood torture porn of the Saw series, has
the courage to humanise its victims and to portray the physical,
emotional and psychological aftermath of rape and sexual abuse. Srdjan
Todorovic is fantastic as Milos, a sympathetic everyman who’s just
trying to take care of his family, driven mad and reduced to his most
bestial instincts and left a wounded animal, a burnt-out shell of a man.
As the Mephistophelean Vukmir, Sergej Trifunovic is a silky seducer, an
almost Satanic figure, his urbane, erudite persona barely masking his
white-hot insanity while Jelena Gavrilovic and Katarina Zutic as Milos’
wife and co-star respectively are both terrific, Gavrilovic in
particular conveying a haunted emptiness by the end of the film that’s heartbreaking.

Perhaps the most horrific thing about A Serbian Film is how good it is. If
it were cheap, exploitation rubbish that looked like it’d been shot on
VHS, with amateurish special effects, terrible performances and lashings
of unconvincing gore it’d be easy to dismiss the film. But its not.
It’s intelligent, well-shot, well-paced, features brave, committed performances
and has some of the most queasily upsetting scenes you are ever liable
to see filmed. But most of all A Serbian Film is an ANGRY film. A
Serbian Film is born of a rage that’s been forced to witness the
absolute depths humanity can sink to. When anything becomes permissible,
the film argues, the unspeakable becomes commonplace, mere
entertainment.

You will not enjoy it. It’s a film that’s out to shock you, to anger
you, sicken you and upset you. You will not be entertained. A Serbian
Film doesn’t want your love. It wants to shake you out of your
complacent, desensitised bubble and rub your nose in suffering. It wants
to brutalise you, assault you, devastate you. It wants to remind you of
your, of our, collective complicity in the rape and suffering of a
country. A Serbian Film is here to remind you just how powerful, shocking and subversive extreme cinema can be.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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