A Serbian Film Review

A Serbian Film film still

Score

Pushing extremes doesn’t equate to intelligent discourse

Coming off a wave of notoriety – Westminster Council banned it from screening at FrightFest in August – A Serbian Filmrolls out a cavalcade of grotesquery under the label of grand political and social metaphor.

And yet director Srdjan Spasojevic’s insufferable effort isn’t being sold as a hardcore political statement: it’s being sold as a hardcore horror film, whose chief claim to fame is a scene in which a newborn baby is raped.

The BBFC demanded four minutes worth of shots be removed before passing it with an 18 certificate. By today’s standards that is extreme butchery. Is it really that dreadful? The answer is yes, but not in the way its director intends.

Spasojevic and co-writer Aleksandar Radivojevic garrotte us with their daft metaphor then wish the viewer embrace them as brave commentators. The whole movie has the curious odour of a conceptual art project made by attention-seeking misfits.

The point is to offend. The point is to cause revulsion. The major point, however, is to hoodwink you into thinking what you’re seeing is some brilliant howl against society and its ills. Pushing extremes doesn’t equate to intelligent discourse.

In being told beforehand we’re watching a cri de coeur about the rape of the Serbian people by its government it all feels a bit one-note. The fact the director released a statement of intent to the press, again, suggests exploitation cinema tactics.

It is rife with poorly executed satire and ever-increasing attempts at transgression. We’re treated to scenes of Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) – the star of the show – hacking off a woman’s head with a machete while screwing her and raping his own son.

The opening quarter threatens to be interesting with its mysterious set up. Milos, a retired porn star, is coaxed out of his home life idyll and asked to star in a new ‘arthouse porno’ for lots of money. Of course, it involves every taboo under the sun and slowly turns into a survival horror film of degeneracy and deepest sorrow.

In the hands of, say, Michael Haneke – who would have shown a little more restraint to maximise the discomfort – this story might have well worked. Indeed, it needs a clinical intellect and masterful filmmaker to offer more than shock aesthetics and empty-headed desires.

A Serbian Film will certainly polarise opinion and spark debate given its lurid content. But describing it as intelligent and powerful is quite simply false advertising.

Anticipation

Banned by Westminster Council!

5

Enjoyment

The filth! The fury! The boredom. The stupidity.

1

In Retrospect

Pseudo-intellectual claptrap at its very worst.

1
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View 18 comments

JD82

4 years ago
Shame you either couldn't review the film without huge spoilers, or couldn't be bothered to. Either way, pretty poor.

SM23

4 years ago
Likely to see "Intelligent and Powerful" Little White Lies on the DVD

Kevin

4 years ago
Spoilers? Or warning of fucked up content? either way, i ain't watching it. Good review though.

delarge

4 years ago
Newborn baby sex? The makers deserve jailing for 30 years. Weird horrible c words.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
"The makers deserve jailing for 30 years."
Please reassure us you are not being serious. A Serbian Film is not a film that I love, or even like without some reservations, but I would defend its existence to the grave. If you do not wish to see it, then cool - but its makers have been entirely responsible, and in their fiction are using porn as a metaphor for power structures, with the weak always exploited by the strong. This is not something that needed to be explained by the all the pre-publicity as the reviewer here suggests - it is a point woven into the very texture of the film, from its title to the many state-of-the-nation references to Serbia in the dialogue. It goes without saying that no baby (or anyone else, for that matter) was harmed in the making of this film. The 'newborn porn' sequence in question was meant not to titillate, but to shock and horrify, as the revolted response of the protagonist Milos (who serves as our uneasy cicerone through the film's narrative) makes clear - if such an idea really needs clarification. The baby sequence was never graphic (in the hardcore sense of the term), and is now, in its BBFC-cut form, no more graphic than the very phrase you just employed ("newborn baby sex") to describe it. So should you get jail? Come on - let's not confuse distaste for criminal condemnation, or else you might have found plenty of directors (including, delarge, the one who inspired your avatar) getting custodial sentences for what they have portrayed fictionally - or does the rape, torture and murder depicted graphically (and comically!) in A Clockwork Orange not inspire similar distaste in the viewer? Distaste can be a strong weapon in an artist's arsenal...

delarge

4 years ago
Yeah I'm being totally serious, relax.

i hate shit sleazy films like this, designed to shock and cause a stir but are actually just a pile of shit with no redeeming qualities about them.

If I want controversy and something totally different, I'll watch a Gasper Noe film, at least his films are good and have a point to them.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
"i hate shit sleazy films like this, designed to shock and cause a stir but are actually just a pile of shit with no redeeming qualities about them."
So you've seen it, then, or are you just applying extreme prejudice?
The director of A Serbian Film claims that "the initial idea was not to shock, or to cause any kind of controversy, but just to honestly express our feelings and problems in the most exact and direct way." Whether one regards this as disingenuous or not (and I fall into the former camp), the film most certainly does have a point (or several) to make - about power structures, the marketing of victimhood, and Serbia's recent history of phallocentric patriarchy. It is also reflexive enough (with its film-within-a-film structure) to put us in our place as its viewers/consumers.
I also quite enjoyed Noe's recent Enter The Void (although again with reservations), and think that it is technically a much better film than Spasojevic's - but I am not at all convinced that it had more to say. On the contrary, its 'message' seemed entirely facile, and was hardly more subtly expressed either.

delarge

4 years ago
Crivens Anton, Ive not got the time today........That said, though I get the point with reference to A Clockwork Orange, but it's nto the same, this film is clearly laying it on thick to cause more of a stir than any other. To shock more than any other, no? I've not seen it no, I check out reviews on here and in the mag for films, some of which I won't get to see or to make my mind up, the review above is more than enough to make my mind up that this is worth a swerve as is some of the content, I'm not a prude I've seen some grim stuff on film ( i know it's not real) as mentioned Noe's films have some brutal violence and controversial scenes, the fire extinguisher and that long, long rape scene in Irrerversible are hard to stomach, especially as the film is laid out, in the end though it's a very good film, Enter the Void was too but personally thought it could've been shorter.Without fully backtracking my initial statement was one done in anger and was silly, it wasn't meant seriously. I hate people who judge films in that way so I was stupid, but I do dislike bad films that aim to cause a stir too.

fortunesfool73

4 years ago
My biggest problem with 'A Serbian Film' was that it made its point in the opening scene with the kid watching his dad's porn. It got interesting and disturbing up until the baby scene, then I just couldn't take it seriously. It just went ludicrously over the top.

It's a stylish and well made film and it will join a long list of 'must sees' for people who love shock cinema but its not dangerous. It works better as a test of what we'll watch in the name of entertainment than it does as a 'political' metaphor.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
In that opening sequence, Milos explains porn to his son as being "like a cartoon for adults." That, to me, sets the tone of everything that follows - cartoonish in its grotesque hyperbole. No-one would accuse A Serbian Film of being subtle. The other key line for me being: "victim sells." So true - and Spasojevic knows it.

fortunesfool73

4 years ago
A pity really. I thought the early sequence where he turns up for the first days filming and we see his POV was incredibly uncomfortable and effective - all the camera's watching us watching. A good essay could be written on that scene, Strange Days and Peeping Tom on the voyeuristic nature of cinema.

mattg

4 years ago
First up, Westminster Council didn't ban it, they requested heavy cuts, which the festival organisers decided would wreck the film, so they didn't screen it - I've spoken to the BBFC, Westminster Council and Frightfest about this. Secondly, I think the original review comes dangerously close to moral reviewing, a trap easily fell into, where offence gets in the way of assessing a film's efficacy. Clearly, Spasojevic is no Haneke or Kubrick, and his message is pretty blunt, but I kind of (wrong word maybe) enjoyed it, as a sort of x-rated The Game... a cartoon for the grown-ups indeed

Rory Ford

4 years ago
Relieved to read this as the review makes me think I can happily skip it. However the trailer is ...intriguiging? Would probably make the effort to watch it if it was in a cinema rather than on DVD. Would be very interested in an audience's visceral reaction to this - also, you have to meke up your own mind after all.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
It is worth adding that the BBFC requested heavy cuts only several days before A Serbian Film was due to screen at FrightFest. Had FrightFest agreed, and a cut been resubmitted to the BBFC as requested, there would still have been no guarantee that the BBFC would not have demanded further cuts. The timeline was too tight for the FrightFest organisers to attempt this - and of course, as you say, they were not exactly keen to show a neutered version of the film anyway. They did of course screen the (considerably less) cut version of the I Spit On Your Grave remake on the same weekend.

It is true that Westminster Council did not, strictly speaking, ban A Serbian Film - but it did take the highly unorthodox (indeed, I think unprecedented) measure of insisting that FrightFest screen only a BBFC-approved cut of the film. Conventionally, films that screen at festivals in Britain are shown without cuts or indeed classification. Westminster Council decided to make an example of Spasojevic's film out of a bizarre sense of moral panic, and prevented a self-selecting audience of adult horror fans from seeing a film that it is likely they would have appreciated for what it is (regardless of whether they enjoyed it or not). Shame on Westminster Council, I say - which, if I recall correctly, also once banned Cronenberg's Crash from screening within its precincts even after the film had been passed uncut by the BBFC.

I can only add to fortunesfool73's measured comments above that the uncut film is not dangerous either. It might not be everyone's cup of tea - but name me a film that is. And the question of whether A Serbian Film is good, middling or just plain shit should of course be entirely irrelevant to a debate about whether it should be banned or censored - although both questions will inevitably come down to subjective judgements that remain largely unquantifiable.

tim porter

4 years ago
Hi guys. I'm from thexperiment podcast. I have followed the controversy from day 1 and i'm currently planning a forum on the show for oppositional and defending parties to discuss the themes, content and messages in the film. If you are interested please contact www.thexperimenthq.cjb.net or thapurple1@hotmail.com for more information.

MarBelle

4 years ago
I interviewed producer Nikola Pantelic & writer Aleksandar Radivojevic at SXSW if you want to hear the justification from the horse's mouth:
http://www.directorsnotes.com/2010/03/21/dn-sxsw1...

nemamime

3 years ago
The major problem with this movie is that it is not understandable to a non-Serb audience .
Most of the dialogue is making references to current themes and issues discussed in Serbia .

To understand those issues you have to have some knowledge of the current political situation in
Serbia .

For example , the contract that is offered at the beginning of the film .
Milos says "but i don't know what I am signing" .
Vukmir says "You are not supposed to know. If you know you will not be good."

What hidden meaning could this possibly have ? It is clear as day to a Serb . The current
government in Serbia is pro-western and was installed about 10 years ago by only 30% of the
population . The contract represents the deal made by the Serbian government with the western
powers in exchange for promises of a better life , a better standard of living .

When Vukmir say "You are not supposed to know. If you know you will not be good." the
meaning is "if you knew , you would not be obedient to your western masters."

"Only filmed here , but for the foreign market." is referencing that the Serbs are economic slaves
of the western powers .

Vukmir says "you could always make your dick stand up like a cock at dawn" is making
fun of the Serbian government for sucking up to the west .

The movie is an angry criticism of the current establishment in Serbia . Whether you agree
with the director's viewpoints or not , that is what the movie is about in a nutshell . I am
not making this stuff up , these are the issues being discussed in Serbia , and even in Croatia .

With this movie , Spasojevic continues a long Serbian tradition of subversive resistance to foreign
domination .

zenit

3 years ago
"Only filmed here , but for the foreign market."

To be more specific , this is referring at least in part to the privatisation and
selling off of Serbia's industry and companies to foreign investment .

Serbs would then be working for foreign employers .

You can read more about it here : http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va...
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