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Posts Tagged ‘#a serbian film’

The Nebulous Nanny State: the BBFC and The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

“Whilst respondents had very mixed ideas about film classification they agreed with two key principles; that films should continue to be classified and that there should be no censorship of film in a free and democratic society. In short, there was a great deal of support for the premise that adults should be free to choose their own entertainment, providing it is legal.”

(BBFC Guidelines, last updated June 2010, p. 38)

“After careful consideration, it was judged that to issue a certificate to THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE), even if statutorily confined to adults, would involve risk of harm within the terms of the VRA [Video Recordings Act, 1984], would be inconsistent with our Guidelines, would be unacceptable to the public and could be in potential breach of UK law.”

(BBFC Statement regarding the denial of certification for The Human Centipede 2, last updated June 2011).

Spot the difference? The self-same (independent, non government-affiliated) organisation whose own consumer research supported anti-censorship in film intended for over-18s has…just effectively banned a film intended for over-18s. The only inconsistency with BBFC Guidelines I’m seeing here is coming from within the organisation. Within the space of one year, the BBFC has performed an about-face, and – as anyone following the debacle surrounding A Serbian Film will be aware – it’s starting to look worryingly as if they’re trying to flex their muscles again.

Not only has the BBFC disregarded its own research, but its own Mission Statement too: that is, its responsibility for “classification of the moving image into advisory and age-related categories” and to “give the public information that empowers them to make appropriate viewing decisions for themselves.” When it comes to horror cinema or cinema otherwise tailored towards an adult audience, the BBFC self-declare that one of their key aims is to “respond to changing social attitudes”.

Responding to changing social attitudes? Fat chance, even when popular opinion seems to be largely against their decisions to maul or reject films. A mere handful of complaints from residents in the London borough of Westminster prior to the FrightFest showing of A Serbian Film notwithstanding (complaints from people who themselves couldn’t have seen the film and didn’t have to go and see the film, lest we forget), people plain do not wish to have their viewing choices prescribed for them. As some of the respondents in their Guidelines say, we do not live in a ‘Nanny state’ and in any case, the potential to access material online makes such action seem redundant anyway.

So why do it? A cynic might suggest that so close to the centenary of the organisation, the BBFC are just as vulnerable to attention-seeking as the HC2 director Tom Six is alleged to be. After the glory days of their influence post-Video Recordings Act in 1984, and their gradual reconsiderations on practically all the films they once deemed to be ‘harmful’, they have, by and large and for some years, stuck to their Mission Statement: detailing the content of films and allotting an age-relevant advisory certificate. Now things are changing, and the reasoning behind this is, by being so nebulous, very difficult to dissect.

The justification given in their statement about the ban on HC2 gives a vague nod to the film being ‘in potential breach of UK law’ (emphasis mine). Why aren’t they certain, since this colours their decision-making in such a concrete way? Quite simply, it’s because the law they have in mind – the only law they could have in mind, according to their website – is itself vague. The Obscene Publications Act, originally instituted during the Victorian era to destroy a burgeoning printed pornography industry, was last updated in the 1960s, and hangs on in there, the last resort of any public figure or body with enough clout (and imagination) to implement it. It concerns itself with banning anything deemed “obscene”. If that word in itself wasn’t woolly enough, it, ahem, clarifies that by explaining that ‘obscene’ relates to anything which could “deprave or corrupt”, and this in turn means whatever could ‘make morally bad’ a “significant proportion” of those who came into contact with whatever-it-was. The novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover fell foul of this Act – you can now pick it up in any bookshop in the country and wonder at what the hell all the fuss was about.

Let’s break it down, then. A film has been banned because it might potentially be in breach of a law which deals in debatable abstractions, but ultimately only holds fast if it can be shown that a “significant proportion” of the audience (i.e. consenting adults) could be “morally worsened” by their experience? Basically the BBFC, if they chose to do so, could pass this film with an 18 certificate because there is no way on earth that such a hazy, outdated law with its foundations so firmly built on sand could ever stand up to scrutiny. It could as easily be applied to other horror films – as an example, the Saw franchise which the BBFC dealt with in a sensible manner – but it was not. And after all, the BBFC has no responsibilty for the guardianship of the morals of adults: they said so themselves. Not even the outraged babblings of the Daily Mail could make it so.

Ultimately, if an adult is influenced by something as simple as a film to re-enact what they see on screen, then their problems already exist, and go far beyond the remit of the BBFC. The rest of us know that horror films will contain horror, and although I think we would all support the BBFC’s work in certificating a film which reserves it for adults, beyond that lies only interference and what-ifs. If the BBFC begins to belie its own aims in order to ban or heavily censor material, perhaps to remind us all that they can, then they ought to remember that these are not the days of the Video Nasties. Films will be driven online, uncertificated, and their wish to provide age-appropriate guidelines to the viewing public will be steadily undermined. I would strongly advise the BBFC to stick more readily to its own current principles and the consensus of its respondents, before fretting over the impractical application of an anachronistic law.

Let’s remember, though, that the BBFC cannot stop films being shown if local councils decide to ignore them. Even the local councils and the BBFC combined cannot stop free showings of films by invitation, either, as happened with A Serbian Film at Riverdance. Perhaps Human Centipede 2 could be shown at festivals by invite for a small donation? Either way, the viewing public must not allow a regression to the spectacular BBFC mismanagements of the 1980s. We’ve moved on.

Top 5 Horror Films of 2010

Friday, December 10th, 2010

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Take Two.

I had originally planned to put together a top 10 list of films; I even made a start on it, before I realised it was going to be harder than I thought. Hell, I even found myself cheating – like adding in films which came out last year… in other words – and I freely admit I’ve missed out on a couple of films which others amongst you have rated highly – 2010 was a slow year for horror films. That said, some clever, thought-provoking, well-executed films have appeared this year too – so, here are my top 5.

5) VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP AND VIDEOTAPE


A documentary rather than a straighforward movie, true, but this for me absolutely has to make the list. As I said in my full review (which you can read here), Jake West’s film strikes a balance between the ever-relevant history of the ‘video nasties’ hysteria, and the sheer exuberance of the fandom. He also keeps it fairly well-balanced: although you might have an inkling of where West’s sympathies lie if you know anything of his work, he makes a real effort to speak to and understand those who eventually implemented, or helped to implement the ban. An exhaustive resource and great fun too, this really feels to me like the last word on the debacle. But will it be the last time we feel the effects of hysterical censorship? Perhaps forewarned is forearmed, and if so, you have to own this film.

4) A SERBIAN FILM


‘Hysterical censorship’ brings me neatly to the next film on my list. To be honest, I’m half-surprised I find myself listing A Serbian Film here. I saw a screener of the film earlier in the year and I initially had a mixed response to it: actually, I still have that mixed response. However, and without including the shock and awe which the film has generated since I saw it (including being pulled from UK horror festival Frightfest and having a record amount of footage cut by the BBFC to render it fit for a release), A Serbian Film is one of the only films I have seen in a very long time which has really stayed with me – and no, not for what has come to be spoken about in hushed tones as ‘that scene’. What sticks to my bones is its overarching intensity: it has a bleakness of atmosphere I’ve only ever felt in one other film, Nacho Cerda’s Aftermath. There’s an aggression and a hopelessness in A Serbian Film which is quite like anything else.

The director, Srdjan Spasojevic, has gone on record in the press recently to explain that he considers his film to be a political allegory, for the years of warfare and their fallout in his homeland. This still feels unconvincing from my own point of view of an audience member – like a means of political explication to justify the film’s content after the fact – but obviously, it ain’t my film and I can only ever guess at this. A Serbian Film for me is an exploitation film with a whole new remit in terms of style and tone, and it even has the gall to throw in some very, very dark humour too.

3) DREAM HOME


I’ve never been much of a slasher fan, but Dream Home is such a gem of a film that it got under my radar. Perhaps this is because it is one of a new breed of slashers which just feel so much smarter than their predecessors; of course, not all slashers were mindless, but they were frequently formulaic, and Dream Home disrupts that familiar form to bring us not a mindless killing machine, but a fallible, reluctant murderess who feels driven to act as she does for a complex, long-standing and – for some – recognisable reason. I found it impossible not to empathise with her – even as she was butchering her way through the (previously) lucky few in her des-res. A neat, engaging structure holds the film together well and the lead actress Josie Ho’s performance is sterling. Hong Kong, the horror community has missed you!

2) F


Good modern horror can give to us the sort of unease and terror associated with archaic times & places, bringing the Gothic – and I definitely mean my use of the term  – bang up to date. These new films can make the lightest, airiest modern spaces become horrible. F does just this with a school environment, using this familiar space as the backdrop for a story of familial and personal redemption – with actor David Schofield turning in a brilliant performance as a damaged, disillusioned, but ultimately resilient father.

The threat here initially seems to stem from a timely paranoia about feral youth, or ‘hoodies’; this is a theme which has been used in other horrors of recent years, but F doesn’t develop this in the same way that, for example, Eden Lake does. Here, they lose even the shreds of humanity which they have in Eden Lake – operating almost as supernatural entities – and this makes for a very different sort of film, one which balances the real and the unreal in an interesting, savage way. With a gutsy ending (which took some thinking on my behalf before I could accept it) and a good cast, F is a stylish, often nerve-wracking horror.

You can read my full review of F here.

1) THE LOVED ONES

Quite simply, the enthusiasm and skill which Sean Byrne and his team bring to The Loved Ones makes it the stand-out genre film of the year for me. That skill starts with the most important of basics, developing a likeable protagonist in Brent (Xavier Samuel) together with a ‘demented family’ schtick whose main character Lola (Robin McLeavy) moves easily from pitiable, to odd, to deserving of her very own place in the horror canon of scary females.

The Loved Ones happily acknowledges its influences from existing horror films – with Carrie as an obvious example, though there are more – but good writing, a real warmth and some brilliantly-handled shifts in pace do more than enough to maintain interest. But, more than all that, the skill behind this film is demonstrated by how it lays on all that nastiness and still manages to be heartwarming at the end of it all. Brent’s transformation as he goes from hating his life to fighting for it might not be (and was probably never intended to be) heavily-drawn or sentimental, but it’s there alright, and adds something interesting and worthwhile to the film as a whole. I’d say this is a cult horror of the future – and I loved this.

You can read my full review of The Loved Ones here.


A Serbian Film (2010) (Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic)

Monday, August 16th, 2010

I’ll admit, I was in two minds about watching A Serbian Film (Srpski Film): like another horror film released this year, The Human Centipede, its reputation has preceded it to such an extent that it was impossible for me to go in with a completely open mind. Despite avoiding reviews like the plague, a few things about A Serbian Film had filtered back to me anyway, and some of the information I received put me on my guard. Whenever I hear epithets like ‘brutal’, ‘shocking’ and ‘high art’ all routinely applied to the same film, I get antsy. Will it just be a series of shocks loosely pinned together by a lacklustre plot? Will it deliberately press buttons for the sake of it, without any attempt to justify the action?

Well, A Serbian Film is certainly guilty of the ‘series of shocks’ motif, and it deliberately presses buttons – no, mashes the buttons under its fist! – but it is, I think, more self-aware than I expected. It pushes boundaries way past the sublime and into the ridiculous, and it seems to deliberately conflate highbrow dialogue and notions with visuals so distasteful that they begin to blur into a sort of pastiche. It’s in my mind that one of the film’s themes – the continual association of violent pornography with art – deliberately pokes fun at the audience, and perhaps even at what I’m doing now as I try to overlay some sort of meaning onto the film. This brings me back to my initial question: does it attempt to justify its action?

*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

The film certainly goes in with the hammer blows, and it creates immediate problems in the ‘how the fuck am I meant to take this?’ category (please note: as I will be discussing sex frequently during this review, double entendres will proliferate. Please be aware that I am aware of it, and, yes, I’m sniggering). The opening scene is of a little boy sitting down to enjoy a DVD…of his father, famed porn star Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), indulging in some pretty agressive hardcore action with an accommodating blonde lady (although A Serbian Film itself isn’t hardcore, and uses prosthetics instead). Milos and wife Maria quickly intervene; although this isn’t the most orthodox household, it’s a loving one, and it seems that Milos has put his old life behind him.

Raising children is expensive, however, so when an old colleague called Laylah gets in touch with a potentially lucrative ‘artistic’ porn role, Milos has to think about it. And, after fucking Maria like she’s a porn star rather than his wife, we’re all made aware that there is still something of the old Milos left…

Milos agrees to meet Vukmir, Laylah’s ‘eccentric’ filmmaker contact. Vukmir really plays up the artistic merit of his brand of pornography: this will be a ground-breaking film, he tells Milos, and he insists on having him on board. The project is however incredibly covert: all that’s transparent is what the gig will pay, and it’s easily enough to support Milos’s family for the foreseeable future. After discussing it with Maria, Milos signs up and departs for the set (leaving Maria and son Petar to the not-so-tender mercies of his sleazy cop brother, Marko).

It’s not long before Milos grows unhappy with the ‘arty’ brand of porn he’s recording. It’s suspect stuff almost from the get-go: there are children on-set, and his scenes are escalatingly violent. He keeps asking for more information and keeps getting told that secrecy is vital to the shoot. During one scene, when he is encouraged to punch a rather ‘bitey’ co-star, this confirms in his mind that he would rather do without the cash after all.

When he tells Vukmir (who turns out to be a child psychologist, rather than a porn director) that he wants to quit, Vukmir tries to reassure him (?!) by showing him one of the simultaneously most appalling and somehow absurd scenes ever committed to celluloid (and my guess is Spasojevic must have won some sort of bet!) Of course, Milos flees, but he’s starting to feel distinctly odd, and he doesn’t get very far before he’s apprehended by the project’s ‘doctor’ and returned to the set. By this point he’s feeling disorientated, and horny…he’s been drugged, because Vukmir still has a film to make, and he wants a less-than-ordinary performance.

Milos comes to days later: he’s bloodied, bruised and amnesic. Whatever ‘fuck dope’ he was spiked with has had a catastrophic effect. From herein, the film largely comprises of flashbacks to scenes of an increasingly disturbing nature, and film footage which Milos finds (helpfully labelled with a cock and balls!) All major inappropriateness points are scored: the film moves into a barrage of violence, paedophilia, male and female rape, and – when Milos is reunited with his wife and son,  on to a fairly inevitable conclusion. But filming isn’t over until it’s over – this is art after all.

It sounds like an obvious thing to say in a film that takes pornography as its major plot device but, this is an intensely sexually-charged film. Every character has sex as their evident, overt driving force: even the little boy Petar asks questions about the way his first porno makes him feel. Of all the characters, it actually felt to me like Milos was the most innocent party here. He has put his sexual cruelty behind him – although he goes at it with his wife in a distinctly non-romantic way, it’s consensual – and he has a conscience which must be overriden with a cocktail of strong drugs. Generally, the people in this film are gargoyles – grotesques, especially the sinister-to-the-point-of-caricature Marko (Slobodan Bestic). So – why sex? And bearing in mind the film’s title, and the few but overt references to Serbia’s national identity, what are the filmmakers driving at?

It could be that pornography is treated here as the ‘lowest common denominator’. If porn is an expression of people’s darkest, most unequal fantasies – all the things people aren’t supposed to think, want or feel – then porn of this violent, non-consensual and illegal kind, especially that which wants to be considered as a ‘true’ artform, could speak volumes about a disordered national conscience. Serbia’s identity is mentioned a few times during the film: Vukmir, Maria jokes, ‘sounds like one of our guys at the Hague tribunal’. One of Milos’s co-stars in the project is the fallen widow of a ‘war hero’ who is punished for her transgressions. Vukmir himself jokes that the new form of art is a means for his country to suffer vicariously.

However, I’m loth to try and join the dots here. If there is any sort of cogent philosophy behind A Serbian Film, then it isn’t fully expounded. It could just be that the filmmakers wanted to make a film with maximum impact and they (quite astutely) opted to do that by employing unprecedented combinations of  sex and violence. It’s certainly put Serbia back on the map for reasons other than their prior international reputation, that’s for sure!

So, to return to my initial reservations about this film – whether its gratuitousness is justifed – I’d say it is justified, albeit still with reservations. The film wanders into the absurd on several occasions, and obviously tries incredibly hard to be repellent, but it certainly makes an impression: it’s enough of an impression that I have had to think over and over my opinion of the film before writing anything down. A Serbian Film is then flawed, but memorable, with a bleakness all of its own (helped no end by some brilliant incidental music). Just don’t expect to see this in the cinema, people – unless some council official has had a hefty dose of ‘fuck dope’ on the day this lands on his or her desk…