Film Review – A Serbian Film

A Serbian Film

A Serbian Film finally got its UK premiere last week at the Prince Charles Theatre. This highly controversial and contentious film was due to be shown at FrightFest this year, uncut, so it was fitting that it was introduced by Alan Jones.

The film deals with retired porn star, Milos (Srdjan Todorović), who is contacted by an old co-start Layla (Katarina Žutić) to do one last, high paying movie for art director Vukmir. Knowing nothing about the plot, but lured by the promise of enough money to keep his young family financially secure, he agrees. With no script and directed via earpiece, Milos starts work on the film, but perturbed by the things he is asked to do, he quits, only to wake up 3 days later, bruised and battered, with no recollection of what has happened. The second act of the film deals with him uncovering the horrific truth.

A Serbian Film provokes extreme reactions in audiences, and it’s worthwhile pointing out a few things it is not.

It is not a grindhouse exploitation movie
It is not shoddily made
It is in no way titillating.

What it is however is a brutal, shocking and hugely important film. The first act builds an incredibly tense atmosphere almost from the very beginning, which means the audience is never fully relaxed. Even without knowing anything about the film it is clear that very bad things are going to happen. Milos’ family life, with his wonderfully smart and supportive wife Maria (Jelena Gavrilović) and beautiful son Petar (Luka Mijatović) is an idealised view of the perfect marriage. Too perfect to survive. We watch those scenes in dread, anticipating the chaos to come.

Chaos is brought by director Vukmir (Sergej Trifunović). Charming, erudite, Mephistophelian in appearance, he woos Milos with praise of his talents. As the film progresses and his intentions are made clearer, he is revealed to have the insanity of a mad scientist, unable to see the immorality behind his intentions.

The first of the major cuts happens when Vukmir shows Milos the ultimate victim pornography. The “newborn porn” scene has been heavily edited, relying solely on audio and Milos’ reaction. It is still deeply disturbing, but lacks the visceral punch of the uncut version. However this is probably the only cut that you really notice. The film still makes sense, is still horrific, still violent. With over 4 minutes of cuts, the main question was whether the film’s message had been neutered at all. Certainly director Srdjan Spasojevic thinks so; he believes the message has been changed.

I’d argue this is not necessarily the case. One of the major themes, of not being able to protect those who are innocent and most vulnerable, comes across loud and clear in more than one scene.

The anger that the filmmakers feel about their country shines through pretty much every cell of the movie. Milos finds himself in a desperate, appalling situation, where he tries at every step to do the right thing, only for the terrible realisation that that there is no escape, only an inevitable conclusion.

When that conclusion arrives, in the final moments of the movie, it is heartbreaking, shocking and, worst of all, unsurprising. There is no glimmer of hope for these characters.

Of course what makes it worse is that Milos is there by circumstance, by dint of his profession. This is no tailored nastiness as punishment as per a film like “Oldboy”, no planned revenge. The protagonists do this because they can. They have absolute power and control. Forces that should protect Milos and his family instead betray him in the worst way possible. The picture is unrelenting in its hopelessness.

All the lead performances are exceptional, from a highly regarded Serbian cast. Todorović is exceptional in what must have been a hugely difficult role, bearing in mind the extraordinarily nasty situations Milos finds himself in. Trifunović as Vukmir turns ably from charismatic to demented, whilst the sleaze award has to go to Slobodan Beštić as Milos’ bad cop brother.

The production design is excellent and there are genuinely striking visuals above and beyond the viscera. A special mention must also go to some amazing special effects as there is no SFX industry in Serbia. While this film was shot on RED digital for budgetary reasons, it never looks cheap. Cinematography and editing are both superb, and the soundtrack by Sky Wikluh adds to the tension and unease throughout the film.

Funded independently and totally uncompromising in it’s outlook, A Serbian Film is determined to shatter the cosy outlook of state sponsored movies in Serbia and Eastern Europe. For that reason alone, it has to be seen as groundbreaking.

This is an incredibly intelligent movie that should leave audiences angry and thoughtful. There is much to consider here and to call it a snuff exploitation movie seems to be a deliberate misinterpretation of what it’s about. Even in the cut version it requires a strong stomach and while I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable experience, I’d definitely say it was a rewarding one.

A Serbian Film will get a limited UK cinema release on December 10th and will be released on DVD on January 3rd

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~ by moviegrrlreviews on November 28, 2010.

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