May 16, 2017 by Kareem Youssef
A serbian Film (2010)
On May 6th of this year (2017) Unearthed Films, the distributor of “A Serbian Film” in America announced the soon to be released “ultimate director’s cut” which is approximately 5 minutes longer and contains 60 hours of behind the scenes footage.
There is a wealth of things to be said about a film that has been banned in 46 countries which of those only 3 of have bothered to even issue a rating for the uncut version. “Art” does not exist in a vacuum and while delving into the contents of the film lets also discuss it’s reputation, image and the circumstances of it creation. Just searching A Serbian film online you’re likely to find it on the top lists of notorious and extreme films (often maintaining the number one spot) or under unflattering headlines.
Filmed in 61 days in Belgrade, Serbia by Directer and co-writer Srdjan Spasojevic, some have described it as a twisted version of Alice in wonderland. It depicts the white rabbit, Alice, and even has lines referencing it. However It’s more allusion and homage rather than a dark reimagining. The motif is following the white rabbit down a hole of depravity.
Milos, a porn star who has retired and started a family still thinks about his former glory. That is until there is a offer that financially compels him to make one more secret film. Of course it’s subconsciously aided by that love of the limelight. We follow the hapless Milos into the rabbit hole. We learn about his family, see his son watch his porn, his brother lust for his wife while coveting his sexual vitality. Everyone is sexually askew and here enters Vukmir the Directer. Vukmir hires Milos as his star calling him “an artist of fuck” then inducts him to worse and worse sexual perversions. There is no redemption, no respite, just truly unrelenting depravity. Horror veterans should see the end coming. If you’re astute enough there are many innocuous scenes that hint it; like a single hit percussion of a drum, or similarly the wave of nausea that come back on you before you feel like vomiting.
Top shelf acting, strong score, clear plot, and overall polished production likely aids the outrage felt towards this film; while far from the apex of disturbing films it’s one of the few with a professional production and commercial availability. We the audience are immersed in it and in effect are vulnerable to the shocks. Traditionally a film with this sort of taboo content is relegated to obscurity due to it’s low budget, grainy student film aesthetic, and generally exploitative or meaningless plot. August Underground comes to mind only known to the followers of the Extreme film genre. A Serbian film has a visceral effect yet It forces itself away from that obscurity with the duel efforts of production value and artistic political message.
The “Political message,” is there one? Well, that is a vehemently misunderstood statement. Carol Hanisch said “The personal is political” Srdjan Spasojevic might say the personal is pornographic as it’s the single most prevalent theme. On his film as a whole Spasojevic described it many colorful ways;
“This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government. We’re giving this back to you.” “It’s about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it’s about.”
When you live in Serbia, you’re fucked. You can get fucked up, or fuck someone else over, but either way, the entire situation is fucked. Even when you have the best of intensions, you’re fucked. Worse: Your kids are fucked. In Serbia, you’re fucked from birth, fucked for life, and fucked in death. Everything in Serbia is completely and utterly fucked.
Extreme scenes, such as the one with the baby, are absolute literal images of how we feel. I never thought, let’s make a shocking film, let’s make it controversial, let’s break the world record. That was never on our mind. We just wanted to express ourselves in the most honest and direct way possible. You’re raped from birth and it doesn’t even stop after your death: that was the point of the ending.
A Serbian Film, is about the lengths a man will go in order to put food on the table for his family, it’s not about looking for a metaphor to present our way of life or my feelings. It came naturally, because after all these wars in Serbia, we have started to experience our lives as pure exploitation. In the kind of job you have to take to feed your family, you’ll end up being viciously exploited by your employer or the rulers. So pornography is used as an image for everyday life, it’s normal. If he did anything else, Milos would still end up with the same kind of problems. Anything in our lives and our culture is pornographic. “…There is no sex in Serbia—only pornography.”
The single most pervasive tone of the film itself is a totally raw Nihilism, taken to the extreme. The personal views of Srdjan Spasojevic shows that clearly he has successful infused it into every scene. The first location that Milos shoots in after accepting the offer for Vukmir’s film is at an orphanage for abused children. One commenter about this movie says, “Films like this feed a hate that only resides in the most disturbed among us.” I found it to be dismissive and presumptuous. I’d prefer to say that, “Films like this expresses a hate that only resides in the most traumatized among us.” The difference I made does not defend the movie, but it also does not chastise the creation of it. There are quite a few who can sense the anger in this film. Interviewer Virginie Sélavy from Electric sheep Magazine mused to Srdjan Spasojevic that “The extreme imagery in the film seems to come from anger” to which Spasojevic responded,
First of all this film is an honest expression of the deepest feelings that we have about our region and the world in general. Concerning our region, the last few decades have been dominated by war and political and moral nightmares. The world in general is sugar-coated in political correctness, but it is actually very rotten under that facade. So we’re talking about problems in the modern world, only they’re set in Serbia. And it’s a struggle against all the corrupt authorities that govern our lives for their own purposes. So yes, there is anger in the film.
A Serbian film an indictment on exploitation not a documentation, Srdjan Spasojevic is no Michael Moore. You’re not watching the Serbian government exploit a whole country instead you seeing the desperate expression of it. Every character has a purpose, it’s carefully crafted to present the emotion and trauma of Milos. the Hero, the Serbian. while we are voyeurs. Voyeurism is one more essential element of the film; because if the deprave exploitation of people is the nihilistic view of world at large then the audience are the voyeurs who provide the demand. The Cameras are everywhere, its recorded images are disseminated everywhere. Each member in Milos’s family watches his old porn films and darkly becomes a part of it; we see all of it as spectators.
Joseph Litvak Author of Strange Gourmets wrote “The class politics of sophistication are inseparable from its sexual politics.” Vukmir an “artist” distorts this reality into a spectacle of sexual perversion dealing with the root meaning of sophistication as an unnatural tampering. Following the rabbit we run into a world directed by Vukmir, An architect of the system but still in service to it, As defined by Spasojevic,
Vukmir… wants to show a real victim. Also because the Western world has lost feelings, so they’re searching for false ones, they want to buy feelings. It’s like they’ll feel more human if they see victims and feel sorry, ‘oh we’re still human, we can feel sorry’ – but that’s a lie. That’s what Vukmir does…
When Milos comes to the horrible realization of what Vukmir has engineered he kills him, and using his dying breath compliments Milos for making “Excellent cinema.” There is no end really just a means of becoming a consumption to the corrupt.
With the infamy of this film I wish Spasojevic would make a dramatic companion to the film with more literal connections to political corruption. A Serbian Film, seems to me as the middle tentpole of a genre of films which showcases the most vile and horrific scenes imagined which reveals the people behind it as the highest echelons of society. Untouchable sociopaths, the difference is that Spasojevic is quite outspoken over who these people are.
The job of artistic expression is to rouse change with culture and horror is often a powerful vehicle for such subconscious ideations. A Serbian Film is as multilayered as Alice and wonderland, a web of images and ideas, past the shock and awe it has a message. Yet there is nothing easy about us watching it. Say what you will I’m inclined to trust that it was birthed as a reaction to Serbian trauma.
Finally, if you’re not squeamish. easily nauseated, of rightfully reluctant to view boundary pushing visuals, perhaps you might give A Serbian Film a watch.