A retired porn star comes back for his big finale
The hype surrounding this movie has brought it to such mythical status that actually finding the truly uncut and uncensored version was equivalent to finding lost treasure (beware the “uncut” version that has definitely been cut). Then, deflation set in because a part of me longed for it to be some sort of Holy Grail I could never find. Regardless, the journey ended and I had the movie in my hands.
I’d seen enough disturbing films (list to follow review), and I not only wondered how this one would stack up against the rest, but why the hell I wanted to watch it at all. Yet, like the car crash one can’t pull their eyes from, I threw the DVD in the player and paid attention to the screen.
Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is a lanky and aging former porn star with an attractive wife (Jelena Gavrilovic) and a cute four-year-old son. Like any family the world over, it seems, money is an issue, so when Milos’ former porn queen, Lejla (Katarina Zutic) says he can star in one last film that will put his family on easy street, he pulls down his pants one last time. But it’s not that simple – of course. The man behind the camera, the master of puppets, Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) wants more from his star than any other director in porn history – much more. From there, the movie escalates the torrid sex, violence and destruction to a fever pitch.
In the director’s introduction, which I did not watch until the movie ended, Srdjan Spasojevic (who cowrote the script with Aleksandar Radivojevic) talked about creating something without the “sugarcoating of political correctness” and he did just that.
What Spasojevic brought us was a fantastical tale of utter taboo to drive home the simple point that the world is fucked up. More important, that we’re all raped like whores (to paraphrase the director) by people in power that assault us from birth to death, even after rigor mortis has set in. Naming the film after a people who have been targeted for committing atrocities during their post-Soviet conflict with Croatians and Bosnians would be a very bad move for an international audience, but this is Spasojevic’s point. His nation has major issues and he’s angry. As a filmmaker, he’s disgusted by his country’s bureaucrats and their abuse of power, and his notorious movie serves as the mirror he has held up to the political horror they’ve unleashed. Whether the metaphor works or not is up to audiences. But one must ask: If Spasojevic had filmed a documentary about Serbia’s lament, would the world have paid attention? Well, two years after its release, A SERBIAN FILM comes up repeatedly among horror fans and anyone out to watch infamous or banned movies. At the risk of physical harm and having his reputation destroyed, Spasojevic has traveled to far off lands to show his movie and meet with audiences, and he’s often interviewed about the movie and its allegory – if one believes there is one at all. In his interviews, the writer/director has also stated his work is a stand against boring cinema in Serbia as well as the “fascism” of political correctness, and the corrupt authorities that control art and theater.
Regardless of Spasojevic’s reasons and whether audiences buy his logic, does not change the fact that he went right to a person’s core by choosing sex as the central topic. After all, whether we deem ourselves to be free or not, we can only really control our thoughts and our bodies. Yet, by hitting us in the groin, this movie makes it perfectly clear that even the freedom of choosing whom to have sex with and how can still be stripped away by authoritarian abuse. That thought alone, even beyond the violence and disregard for humanity in this movie, is enough to make one squirm.
As for the censorship that has blocked the widespread distribution of the movie, I’m dead set against it. After all, this is a feature for adults and adults can certainly make their own choices when it comes to seeing any such film. We don’t need governments or angry mobs to try to stop us from indulging if we choose to, dammit.
The problem with A SERBIAN FILM, however, is that fantastical element of utter taboo. Not once did I think what was actually taking place in the movie could happen anywhere, even with the megalomaniacal Vukmir at the helm unleashing cinematic destruction like a rabid Orson Wells. Then again, any time there is a wealthy and powerful soul going crazy beyond logic in a cinematic feature, the emotional side of my brain shuts down just enough to keep me grounded. Yes, this movie was unsettling on many levels for many reasons (to offer further details would unleash too many spoilers), and I bit the hell out of my nails, but the visceral impact that is the driving force behind IRREVERSIBLE (France, 2002), BORDERLAND (Mexico/USA, 2008), AUDITION (Japan, 1999) or MARTYRS (France/Canada, 2008) is lost to a degree. With those four films, I could not catch my breath or turn off my mind for hours. And although Spasojevic’s movie has left me with a lot to think about, my blood pressure is quite steady. Furthermore, if the director’s intent is to spotlight the plight of his people, and people under the grueling thumb of any government, there should have been at least one victim far above the age of thirty-five.
At first, I contributed my utter lack of a flight response due to over-desensitization, until I realized I had known what was coming in almost every scene. As each scene grew progressively darker and more intimate, each master shot made the segment quite clear and it was easy to prepare for what was to come. There was definitely far too much telegraphing. One scene, however, did catch me by surprise, and it’s one of the major reasons why the movie is so despised. Initially, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (Italy, 1980) and SALO (Italy/France, 1975) had shared the pedestal for Most Disturbing Film, but that scene comprised one outrageous taboo that’s so illicit, A SERBIAN FILM may have just joined them in a twisted trinity.
Beyond the talk, outrage and pontificating, it cannot be denied that Todorovic is brilliant in the role as the porn star that unknowingly sold his soul and put everyone around him at risk. The rest of the cast poured themselves full-blown into their respective roles, though it’s obvious Trifunovic enjoyed playing the god-like master tormentor, and he did so with great aplomb. And don’t think for a second this is some run-of-the-mill low budget exercise hellbent on offering up shock value. Nemanja Jovanov’s cinematography is outstanding. Lighting, color, shadow, sound and the majority of effects would make Hollywood proud. Moreover, Sky Wikluh’s score is solid and rocking, and you can sometimes hear those little touches of what would be the platform for porn music tracks on occasion.
But you have to make the decision to see it, digest it and talk about it. As for me, I’ll continue to ruminate – and keep this disc in my collection, though I’m uncertain if I’ll want to ever see it again. Enjoy. I think.
Other disturbing movies of note: MARTYRS (France/Canada, 2008), AUDITION (Japan, 1999), SALO (Italy/France, 1975), IRREVERSIBLE (France, 2002), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (Italy, 1980), ERASERHEAD (1977), VISITOR Q (Japan, 2001), BORDERLAND (Mexico/USA, 2007), MEN BEHIND THE SUN (Hong Kong, 1988) and GROTESQUE (Japan, 2009).
4 out of 5 stars