A Serbian Film

Srpski Film | Serbia | 2010 | Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic

Logline: A veteran porn star agrees to participate in one last movie in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover later that he has been involved in a soul-crushing snuff film.

A furiously dark and uncompromising portrait of corruption and abuse, focusing on one man’s nightmare ne plus ultra, a descent into the most unimaginable real horror borne from his career, his fear, his life-blood. A Serbian Film, the title seething with the darkest of irony, its intent bent on the most scathing of social commentary portrays an appalling plummet over the edge of the abyss.

Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is married to a beautiful wife Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic) and has a curious young son, Stefan (Luka Mijatovic). They are a close-knit family, but true happiness eludes them. Milos wants out of the adult industry, and when a lucrative opportunity presents itself Milos takes the bait. A colleague, Lejla (Katarina Zutic), sets him up to meet charismatic art-porn director Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) who makes Milos an offer he can’t refuse, while keeping the finer details a mystery.

When Milos discovers, much to his concern, the more perverse elements of Vukmir’s direction he wants his contract cancelled. But Vukmir isn’t open to negotiation. Milos has been mickey-finned. The red light turns to green, but Milos isn’t going anywhere. His groin throbs. His head reels. Everything blurs and fades to black.

The second half of A Serbian Film follows Milos as he uncovers what happened to him during his three-day black out. As shards of extreme violence and depravity pierce Milos’ vision – which, ostensibly, is the viewer’s – the narrative switches back and forth between the events occurring during his drug-addled waking nightmare and Milos struggling to comprehend and deal with the aftermath. What might have appeared disturbing before he blacked out is nothing compared to what is returning to his disorientated mind.

Subliminal images and an intense soundtrack enforce Milos’s fractured memories. He’s been pumped full of a drug that Vukmir likens to “Viagra for bulls”. He has become a “he-goat” as Vukmir muses, a slave manipulated into the most depraved performances, all in the name of dark art for the black market. Vukmir believes himself to be an artist working with the flesh and souls of the victim, because the victim is the priciest sell in the world, the victim feels the most and suffers the best.

Spasojevic has made one of the most controversial and provocative movies ever. It has been banned or censored in most countries. The version released in Australia was shorn of a few minutes, most notably in two scenes depicting pedophilia. Ironically these cuts would have only served to confuse the viewer as to what exactly had occurred and effectively blur the intended impact, they certainly wouldn't have "protected" the viewer as the censor’s might think they’re doing. Shortly after the Australian cut version was approved, an appeal was launched and subsequently the movie was banned altogether.

This is a thematically complex movie; intriguing, sensual, grotesque, shocking, repulsive, exhilarating, mesmerising, and deeply harrowing. I challenge anyone who happens to see the movie not to be moved – in the broadest sense – in some way. This movie doesn’t just slap you in the face; it punches hard, a king-hit that simultaneously kicks your feet out from under you. It’s the art of atrocity that takes the bull of darkest human behaviour by the horns, guaranteed to shock the most jaded transgressive cinephile.

There are the implications of a country plagued by war and atrocity and the loss of identity, the power of individuality, of freedom of speech, of the schizophrenic world of false morality. A Serbian Film is Shakespearean in its arc and the scope of its thematic elements, also its psychological and visceral impact, and most importantly, in the tragedy of its tale. With rich and dark cinematography, a brilliant electronic score that throbs and pulsates like a primordial beast, and uniformly excellent performances from its cast this is arguably the most powerful post-modern horror movie ever made, dealing explicitly with the horror genre’s most potent elements: sex and death, innocence and corruption.

A Serbian Film is a dark horse that kicks like an angry mule.