If you follow the horror-world then you’ve probably heard of the 2010 Serbian film, A Serbian Film. The film has become notorious for the investigation into whether it broke any laws in Serbia. It was also banned in Spain altogether. It was just released in the U.S., although it’s a truncated version. I saw this version, running at 98 minutes, last night.
The film has definitely polarized people. Some decry it as exploitive trash, others think that it’s brilliant. I fall quite close to the second camp. It’s flawed but it’s far from trash.
Miloš (Srdan Todorović) is a retired, legendary porn-star with a wife, Marija (Jelena Gavrilović), and son, Petar. He has some cash from his porn days squirreled away but money’s getting tight. Most of all he wants to get his family out of Serbia. A former coworker, Lejla (Katarina Žutić) tells him to contact Vukmir (Sergej Trifunović) about a job that pays really well. In fact, they only want Miloš, who Vukmir describes as the “Nikola Tesla of porn.” I guess that means he has a Tesla coil where his dong is.
Miloš agrees to the job although he’s concerned that they won’t tell him exactly what it’s about. Vukmir describes it as art-house porn with real people in real situations. But the situations are very weird, even for porn, and Miloš decides he wants no part in the movie. He wakes up three days later, battered and bloodied, and with no recollection of what happened. The rest of the movie is a nonlinear attempt to figure out what the hell happened to him.
There are scenes of indescribable brutality. I don’t want to describe them because, 1. A lot of space has been devoted to them and you can look up what they are anywhere and 2. I want you to see for yourself and see as the story unfolds. This is the most violent movie I have ever seen. Ever. I am warning you, there is rape, murder, necrophilia, and, in the U.S. version implied pedophilia. The violence is intensely realistic. At one point I thought I was going to throw-up, although that’s partly because the movie touched on one of my quirky fears. (My teeth. I’m terrified something will happen to them or that I’ll lose one and I’ll have to go to work missing a front tooth. Do you ever have dreams where your teeth just crumble to shards or they fly out of your mouth? I have them often.) I mean, there was literal skull-fucking in this movie.
The movie is crafted well-enough to make you like Miloš and his family. You care about them and want them to have a happy ending. This isn’t like a Saw movie with Jigsaw moralizing over his victims. This makes their fate too painful. I can’t say it enough, film-makers, but you have to make us care about your characters. You think that a former porn-star would be all levels of gross and sleazy but Miloš is a nice guy. If anything, his brother Marko (Slobodan Beštić), a crooked cop, is the creepy one.
The film-making itself was amazing. I liked that the structure was nonlinear, making you as scared and confused as Miloš was. I tracked his nose-bleed to tell whether I was in the past or the present. No one mentioned in the reviews that I read how psychedelic the movie became.
Most surprisingly of all, the movie had a sense of humor. There’s a sequence of Miloš preparing himself to go back to work and it’s funny because it evokes pretty much every training-sequence in movies like Rocky.
Ultimately, what made me like the movie is that it was made by Serbians and reflected upon a country battered by years of war and ethnic tensions. I would have disliked this movie if it were an American production because then I think it would be exploitive. It would be outsiders coming into judge. Instead, it was made by people who survived war and survived what happens when the people who are supposed to represent you betray you. And the characters in this movie commit many, many betrayals. I just wish that we had a chance to see more of Serbian life than we were offered in the movie. While money troubles were alluded to, the stakes just didn’t seem high enough to justify undergoing this very unknown and risky venture. Still, this is the least of the plotholes I’ve seen in the recent movies I’ve viewed.
This movie is definitely not for everyone. Please, I beg you, avoid this if you have a weak stomach. But I also ask that you give this movie a chance, as a unique piece of art. The filmmakers didn’t just create this to be shocking, they have a real statement to make and it’s something the world should see. Besides, isn’t the point of art to be shocking, to provoke?