First off I want to just say that I don’t just watch weird and disturbing foreign films. I am well aware that most of the foreign films I have reviewed so far were either surreal, horror or plain messed up. A Serbian Film is certainly the latter two of those. I do watch normal foreign films. Amongst my favourites are Amelie, Le Chignon D’Olga and Gozu… wait, scrap that last one. Ermmm. I like City Of Lost Children too! Anyway, on with the review…
A Serbian Film has managed to, quite rightly, win the unanimous and dubious award of being one of the most controversial films of all time. I’d probably say it’s one of the most graphic and disturbing films I’ve seen. I say probably because I’ve seen Showgirls. This film has managed to travel the globe offending everyone it possibly can. If Mary Whitehouse were still alive I’m sure she’d have a stroke after seeing this. Not that she ever watched any of the films she criticised. Fucking hypocritical old hag. God bless her soul. Does A Serbian Film deserve all the backlash it has received? Yes, yes it does. It fucking earns that backlash and it earns it with a smile on it’s face the size of lead character Milos’ dick. That’s quite large. oh and if you want to see this film you should get used to seeing that dick. There aren’t many films the BBFC allow past certification with a fully erect penis on camera multiple times but somehow they let A Serbian Film past. Well with a few edits.
Usually the BBFC allows more controversial imagery to pass if they believe there’s a level of artistic worth to the film. I’m guess that was what allowed A Serbian Film to get a UK dvd release. I’ve not seen Human Centipede 2 yet but I really doubt it manages to be as graphic as this film is. Does it have artistic worth though? Why yes it bloody well does. A Serbian Film isn’t all shock and gore. What it manages to do is use the shocking imagery and themes in a manner that it fits the context of the story and serves as a strong metaphor for modern entertainment culture. At it’s core the film is about how far people go for a paycheck, for fame and how the system will make sure people go further. you only have to watch a mentally unstable Susan Boyle be carted around the celebrity circuit during her season on X-Factor to see how willing the entertainment industry is to exploit someone for their own profit.
I should warn, more so than I did for my Ichi The Killer review, that A Serbian Film is not a film for anyone who isn’t prepared to see some really messed up stuff. Granted the most potentially shocking scene in the film has been clearly heavily edited to avoid being graphic. It’s also a scene that manages to chuck in some of the lost inappropriately placed humour I’ve ever seen. Over the course of the film the incidents of horrific sexual and visceral violence that occur get progressively more graphic. The scene I was just mentioning is the true turning point of the film when it goes from being moderately disturbing to full on fucked up.
What stops A Serbian Film from being so easily disregarded as shock for the sake of shock is the fact that it is not only well produced, very well written and shot in fact, but that it is also a very intelligent and challenging film. i honestly believe that as taboos break down in the manner they have been over the last 30 years that eventually people will look back at this film as being an important piece of cinema that dared to challenge what could be acceptable artistically. Think about how 30 years ago we had a rape revenge film in the form of I Spit On Your Grave upsetting the masses and being banned left and right. Recently we have seen a Hollywood produced remake of that film. the same can be said of Last House On The Left too. maybe 30 years from now this film will be getting remade starring Jayden Pinkett-Smith. I can’t wait to hear whatever song he does for it.
As mentioned the film is very well shot. I was instantly struck by this. I was honestly expecting a very low budget, shot on cheap digital cameras with obviously fake effects. Every element of this films production is top notch. Honestly it looks like it was made with quite a strong budget. I doubt it was but the films two leads, Srđan Todorović as Miloš and Sergej Trifunović as Vukmir, are apparently pretty big names in Serbia to the point where many were surprised that they were willing to be in this film. Both do a pretty damn good job performance wise too.
The story, at it’s heart, is a drama about a former porn star actor who, desperate to help his family during hard financial times, agrees to star in a no questions asked film for a large sum of money. Milos has no idea what the film will entail and is tense about the situation from the start. When he realises just how dark director Vukmir’s vision is Milos walks. 3 days later he wakes to find himself at home with a bloody nose and pissing blood. Throughout the film there’s a hell of a lot of Whiskey drinking so when Milos does get drugged it’s not just that he fell for an old trick but that it was probably thanks to his borderline alcoholic status that he did. Honestly there’s probably a glass of Whiskey for each line of dialogue. Well maybe not. The final act follows him as he pieces together what has happened over the last 3 night. There’s hardly any dialogue over these scenes which allows the horror of what has transpired to really come to the forefront. The film does have a few story issues though and it’s the old issue of issues with the first act effecting the third.
We don’t really see just how poor Milos’ family is. They have a house that looks decent enough and Milos has cash on him for his wife to pay for her son’s singing lessons. We don’t feel that he is really that desperate. We are also told that Milos doesn’t miss working in porn movies, albeit with a brief hesitation to answer when asked. These issues work away the the motivations of Milos throughout the film meaning when we reach the end we aren’t entirely sure he is as much of a victim as the film portrays him. To add to that there’s no looming threat to his family throughout the film and they end up in a far worse situation by the end. Well there’s one threat to Milos’ family life but to mention it here would potentially ruin any surprise when the end comes. the film is also littered with visual metaphors for Alice In Wonderland as Milos gradually tumbles further and further down the rabbit hole of depravity. Most films these days have some sort of Alice In Wonderland parallel these days but they’d rarely admit it. It’s very obvious here though. A young girl is even dressed as Alice and referred to as being in Wonderland.
Overall A Serbian Film is dark, challenging, disturbing and very well made. It is a film worthy of note and study but is by no means perfect. It certainly isn’t a film for your Gran to watch on a Sunday afternoon. I honestly don’t recommend that everyone reading this see the film despite how much I feel it is a good one. It’s one of those films that after you’ve seen it people will ask you what it was like. tell them so they don’t have to see it. If they’re curious then pass it on. Just warn them that it might be 30 years before they can display the dvd on their shelf. If shelves even exist in the future.