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Posts Tagged ‘frightfest’

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…