Cult Horror Corner: A Serbian Film
Controversy has been at the heart of many films since the birth of cinema. From the religious backlash against The Passion of the Christ, to the censored nastiness of The Human Centipede: Full Sequence and Irreversible, many films, have seemed to be controversial from the start, and usually live up to the notoriety. When A Serbian Film was first released, it was heavily cut by the BBFC, banned in numerous countries, and generally considered to be one of the most despicable, nasty films of all time. It is fair to say, after a viewing of A Serbian Film, that it’s difficult to disagree with the censorship boards and most critics; A Serbian Film is a nonstop wave of scuzzy images, misogyny, unpleasantly graphic sexual violence and gratuitous gore that ranks as one of the most deliberately hateable films ever made.
The problem with A Serbian Film is that it is quite clearly deliberate in its attempts to shock and disgust, which really seems to make it pointless. Its director, Srđan Spasojević, has claimed that the film is a political allegory for the horrors faced in Serbia, but this isn’t particularly obvious to anybody, and doesn’t give the film an excuse to be bad taste. At least when John Waters made a film like Pink Flamingos, he knew and openly admitted it was an exercise in bad taste. By attempting to label it as art, Spasojević tries to justify it but ultimately it’s disagreeable.
The plot follows retired porn actor Milos (the admittedly impressive Srđan Todorović), who agrees to star in an ‘art’ film directed by Vukmir (an overacting, borderline pantomime Sergej Trifunovic), to secure financial security for his family. Early on in the film, we know Milos is a successful actor because we see his young son watching one of his films, in a fairly awkwardly written and performed scene. Later, he begins to wonder what kind of film he is making when he finds himself in increasingly strange and unpleasant circumstances featuring all measures of abuse.
As I said earlier, A Serbian Film is quite clearly intended to get a reaction. It features some scenes so utterly horrible, you’ll question what must be going on Serbia. The most infamous of these scenes, dubbed the ‘newborn porn’ scene, is truly vile, but at the same time, the effects are so plastic and rubbish, that it feels like you’re watching some cheap, sleazy grindhouse film, rather than a supposed political film. In fact, most of A Serbian Film feels like a sleazy grindhouse flick, with the cast playing at cartoon levels and a general sense of hysteria. As the film continues on, events get worse and worse, with death by erection, rape, murder and incest all cropping up. It’s about an hour in that Spasojević clearly gave up making anything close to satire, and just wanted to disgust. It goes so far across the line of bad taste that it almost stops being shocking and just becomes pretty repetitive in its hellish situations.
Strangely though, I can’t call A Serbian Film a complete failure, despite how unlikeable it appears, because its intent is to shock and it does achieve. It does invoke an inner sense of rage that makes it quite an experience for extreme cinema fans. The first fifty minutes, it should be said, are also not bad, as they are watchable and could be the foundation of an interesting movie. It is also not a boring film, as Spasojević overloads the viewer so much that even if you are disgusted or appalled or just terrified, there is always something happening and always a new, grimey set piece around the corner. A Serbian Film is not by any stretch of the imagination a good film, with mostly weak acting, gratuitous unpleasantness and a misogynistic, hateful streak, but it is also a fascinating experience, if just to see how far a director is willing to go to get a shock. I don’t recommend you watch A Serbian Film, but if curiosity gets the better of you, it certainly provokes a reaction.
By Harry J. Ford
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