“The unique magic of rigor mortis”
Ever since people started making movies, there have been films that have shocked & outraged the general public. As far back as 1963 Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast was shocking audiences worldwide with its high (for the time) gore content. Each generation of filmmakers pushes the genre into evermore explicit themes & images. Taboos & boundaries are crossed. From Peeping Tom (1960) through Cannibal Holocaust (1980) to todays controversial movies like August Underground’s Mordum (2003) There will always be movies whose content provokes a media induced moral backlash. Nobody living in the UK in the mid 80s will ever forget the media induced hysteria over the so-called “video nasties”, their banning & the DDP list. The latest film to stir up such controversy is Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film.
Most people watching this film for the first time will have heard something about its content, such is the furore surrounding it. In most cases the old chestnut “there is no publicity but good publicity” is true, in A Serbian Film’s case it actually detracts from the movie as an experience. All the shocking scenes that you have heard about, without being framed in the context of their place & purpose in the film sound deeply offensive, gratuitous & unnecessary. There are shocking scenes in this movie, there are scenes which truly sicken & repulse, scenes that really push the boundaries of acceptability. But they need to be seen in context, in the movie. Often these scenes are hyped to the point of being completely inaccurate. The infamous newborn rape scene is a case in point. Yes it is extremely upsetting & very, very hard to watch… But, it is nowhere near as graphic as some would have you believe. The baby is clearly a model (& thankfully not at all realistic) The scene is filmed from behind the rapist so nothing at all explicit is shown. It is the implication of what is happening that provokes the feelings of disgust (as it should) Unlike a lot of exploitative fare, A Serbian Film is in fact a very well made, intelligent movie.
A Serbian Film follows Milos, a retired porn star, now happily married with a young son. The one problem Milos has is money & when a former colleague Lejla informs him of a job offer to star in an “artporn film” that promises one last big payday, Milos agrees to meet the director Vukmir. Despite the fact that Milos is uncomfortable that he will have no idea what he is filming, the money is too good to turn down & Milos reluctantly agrees. Milos is picked up the next morning & provided with an earpiece. This will be used by Vukmir to direct Milos. He is taken to a building where he is followed by a film crew. At first everything seems normal until he is taken to a room & instructed to have sex with an abused woman while a girl dressed like Alice In Wonderland watches. Milos refuses to co-operate, but is restrained by the crew & forced to take part. A furious Milos then goes to see Vukmir & is shown another of Vukmir’s projects. Milos recoils in horror as the film he is watching shows a man aiding in the birth of a child, then raping the newborn that is only minutes old. Milos storms out but is intercepted & drugged. He wakes 3 days later in bed bruised & bloodied. He finds some videotapes & as he watches them the horrific truth of the missing 3 days is revealed.
A Serbian Film is first & foremost a very good movie. It’s the kind of film the likes of Fred Vogel (August Underground) or Nick Palumbo (Murder Set Pieces) can only dream & aspire to making. Blessed with a decent budget & first-rate acting, A Serbian Film could be mistaken for a normal mainstream big studio movie if it wasn’t for its content. As much as I like this movie, even I cannot completely condone some of the imagery used. For years I have stood up for Cannibal Holocaust, a sickening but at the same time brilliant piece of moviemaking. But even Cannibal Holocaust’s considerable shock factor pales when confronted by A Serbian Film. No one can truly prepare you for A Serbian Film, it is a film that should be judged by each individual & their own sensibilities. A film that needs to be approached with extreme caution, as once seen it cannot be unseen.