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Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Serbian Film Review

A Serbian Film Review
by Joshua Handler
2011, 104 minutes
Rated NC-17 for extreme aberrant sexual and violent content including explicit dialogue
(This rating only applies to the cut version.  The version reviewed is unrated and uncut.)

This review is part of a series of extreme, but highly recommended pieces of cinema that I believe are either essential or interesting.

A Serbian Film is the most controversial film to be released in years and has had the most jaded viewers running for the exits and wishing they would "un-watch" it while screening it at film festivals.  It was passed with dozens of cuts in Britain and is banned in multiple countries.  The film follows Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), a retired porn star, who is asked by a director, Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), to star in a porn film of which Milos knows nothing.  In return, Milos would be paid enough so that he will never have to worry about money again.  However, it is only when Milos gets on set that he sees that the film he is starring in is a snuff film.  This film contains (simulated) scenes of murder, rape, incest, pedophilia, necrophilia, and near-porn.  Bottom line, the buzz out of the film festivals was correct.  Though I did not see this in one sitting, the impact wasn't blunted.  This is one out-of-control film that is truly the most disturbing thing I've ever seen.  It is so disturbing that it makes everything else look like Bambi.  However, it is, as the filmmakers point out, a commentary on life in Serbia.  While this may be a bit of a stretch, I would have a hard time not believing this.  This slightly mitigates the extreme content.

The funny part about A Serbian Film is that it is extremely well-made and obviously well thought-over.  The acting is phenomenal, the writing top-notch, and the camerawork is beautiful and crisp.  However, this is all balanced against some of the most brutal scenes of sexual violence that have ever been put on film.  The images are graphic and leave nothing to the imagination.  Some are even stomach-churning.  One scene towards the middle of the film had me nearly covering my eyes.  I do not want to divulge into all of the gory (pun intended) details as seeing this film with no prior knowledge of its content would be ideal.

According to "The Guardian",  director Srdjan Spasojevic insists that "This (film) is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government. It's about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotise you to do things you don't want to do."  Spasojevic hammers this point home.  He may go way past where he should have in making this point, but if this indeed is the point that drove him to make the film, he accomplished his task brilliantly.  It is interesting to note how this film and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover are both allegorical films using extreme content for what governments are doing to their people.

In order to have a very good, even brilliant extreme film, there must be some reason for it existing.  If it is nasty to be nasty, then what is the point (Pink Flamingos aside)?  By the end of A Serbian Film, I cared for Milos and was emotionally attached.  Spasojevic starts the film calmly and carefully cranks up the extreme content.  This is how I got attached to it and cared.  When the final scene came, I was devastated.  That is good filmmaking.

Overall, A Serbian Film is not for the faint-hearted.  It is ruthless and insane, but it serves a purpose and is an excellent piece of filmmaking.


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