Directed By: Srjdan Spasojevic
Starring: Srjdan Todorovic
Some say that A Serbian Film is transgressive, however I think such claims are rather tenuous.
The tempestuous cycle of critical thought that surrounds a genuine transgressive piece of art begins with an initial reflex action of disgust and anger that gradually matures into re-evaluation and appreciation. It’s been seen many times before, whether it’s Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), which effectively ended Powell’s career only to be championed years later rather undeservedly by powerful figures such as Martin Scorsese, or Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991), an almost unprecedentedly violent book that was reviled by readers, critics and feminists alike only to be considered a postmodern classic some years later.
A Serbian Film claims to be an allegory, director Srđan Spasojević said during FrightFest that ‘Pornography is used as a metaphor for the everyday job, a job where you’re exploited by the ruler of your destiny… all in the name of feeding your family’ He may be sincere, however I suspect that this is just guff he’s using in an attempt to justify his absurdly violent, sadistic film.
Rather than it being A Clockwork Orange (1971) or Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), the content of A Serbian Film is more akin to John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972), both films are merely a parade of obscenity that seek to revile their audiences, only the former takes itself seriously and the latter most certainly doesn’t.
The film follows Milos (Srđan Todorovic), a retired pornstar living with wife Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic) and son Petar (Luka Mijatovic). In what is a familiar narrative structure, Milos is lured out of retirement by the promises of big money to do one last ‘art film’ that turns out to be a series of horrific snuff scenes.
Unlike many of the exploitation films of the 70s and 80s, the film is well made. It features decent performances from the lead, his wife and the slew of supporting characters. The cinematographer Nemanja Jovanov also deserves kudos, the shots both interior and exterior earlier in the film are attractive and the shady locations in which the horrors occur are captured and lit in ways that create a nightmarish quality. Unlike the classic exploitation films that inspired it, A Serbian Film’s aesthetics also benefit from a modern, striking high-definition sheen.
Once Milos is heavily drugged and the production of the awful films begins, A Serbian Film becomes a series, almost a montage, of absurd sexual violence that become increasingly strong, with each new scenario of outrageous violence trying to outdo the last. I didn’t find A Serbian Film as disturbing as some have, its scenes of baby rape and penile penetration of eye sockets were just risible in their eagerness to offend, I consider films such as Cannibal Holocaust and Salo to be more jarring and visceral. The final 15 minutes or so, however, present the viewer with a genuinely devastating situation, even if it is rather absurd.