There’s not a whole lot that can prepare you for “A Serbian Film.” Much ink has been spilled over the various controversies surrounding the picture, but this Friday, you will have a chance to make up your own mind about a film that has divided even the most depraved of genre fans. Well, for the most part - “A Serbian Film” couldn’t be received on our shores as an NC-17 rated film without a few significant cuts.
“A Serbian Film” centers on Milos, a male porn star who retired at the top of his profession. Though his home life is happy, with a young son and a beautiful, supportive wife, Milos wanders in and out of a daily routine, emasculated by his wife’s productivity and the continued work of his peers. The fact that money is drying up is only intensified by his brother: it’s through his nightstick, gun, and police uniform that he makes Milos feel like a potential cuckold.
Without a necessarily negative opinion of the industry (his darkest expectations of the pornographic world extend to bestiality), Milos is open to earning a bit of extra cash with a return to skin flicks, although he has no interest lest the payday be big. And he’s in line for the biggest: a chance encounter with an old friend leads him to the doorstep of filmmaker-slash-provocateur Vukmir. A self-proclaimed artist, the diminutive, bearded showman uses endless hyperbole to excite Milos about the chance to make “real art.” But when Milos balks at Vukmir’s relative obscurity and the disquieting refusal to disclose the film’s plot or content, it takes the heftiest paycheck he can imagine to enter the fold. And when his brother finds nothing in an attempt to reference Vukmir’s priors, Milos is set to drop his drawers for the camera once more.
At first, Milos understands Vukmir’s form of pornography as transgressive in its ugly violence and button-pushing heterosex imagery, blindly entering scenarios where he is meant to employ heated, confrontational methods of seduction to ravage women chained down, restrained, unable to express themselves save for the screams of pain and anguish. Beyond the pale for the average person, though for the experienced thespian, just another day at the office. The situation becomes a bit hairier as Milos goes further down the rabbit hole, performing the same intense sessions without knowing that a child watches in the distance, cheering.
Once Milos becomes aware of an obviously non-consensual situation, he tells Vukmir that he will no longer be the star of the show. Vukmir seemingly breaks the fourth wall at this moment, discussing the sledgehammer politics at work in a circuitous chicken-or-egg dissertation that establishes “A Serbian Film” as a broad statement about the genocide, political abuse and indoctrinated slavery that infects the people of Serbia. It’s a defiant middle finger chased with a question mark, as Vukmir damns the world for making his “art” exist, before showing Milos where the current masterpiece is headed, pulling down the shades and showcasing a film where… well, there’s a birth… and there’s a man delivering the baby, and… we don’t want to say, because we don’t want to spoil it, we don’t want to even discuss it, and we don’t want to know how exactly this scene survives the scissors of US censors, as the mere suggestion makes the skin crawl.
It’s certainly enough to make Milos head for the exits, though the next time he wakes, he knows something terrible has happened. A videotape has been left behind, revealing that Milos has been oblivious to the last three days. As Milos watches, he realizes that Vukmir is dead-set on keeping his leading man, even if it meant drugging him into an erect stupor and letting him commit the most heinous acts imaginable by the human mind.
Essentially turning that last third into a found footage angle, the one picture “A Serbian Film” closely resembles is shock-horror classic “Cannibal Holocaust,” in the utter hopelessness and nihilism of the footage being watched. What’s most upsetting is the realization that Milos, for all his sins caught on tape, remains alive, healthy and unpunished. The impact of the video is both immediate and distant, as Milos now watches it the way someone (his son, specifically, in an early scene) can merely pop in one of his VHS videos and see his work. And as for the sights he sees, we can’t imagine exactly how much survived the ax from the MPAA. Probably not much.
Content-related cuts make little sense in this case, as there’s a foreboding air that contaminates the whole of “A Serbian Film,” bound to be a difficult sit for anyone with even the loosest set of morals. The violence, shown in escalating graphic detail and often gruesomely sexualized, doesn’t have the same effect as the shock and anger that Milos displays - Srdjan Todorovic is immensely believable as a man experiencing, and in some cases causing, the most inhuman forms of violation. “A Serbian Film,” polished and provocative enough to carry an undeniable weight, closes on a shot that isn’t explicit, but establishes that what we’ve seen is merely a brief episode in an ongoing cycle of violence. It’s the suggestion that there can be no end to this depravity, the sickening part being that, as conventionally as possible, it is a punch line.
For those with the stomach… [B]
For everyone else… [F]