Review: 'A Serbian Film' Is Strictly For The Disturbed

by Gabe Toro
May 13, 2011 4:27 AM
13 Comments
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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]

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More: Foreign Films, Review, A Serbian Film

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13 Comments

  • randy | August 6, 2011 7:41 AMReply

    the baby is delivered, and (while they dont show very much...its shot at a side angle) the man who delivers the baby proceeds to have sex with it, insinuating a new type of porn.

    this could of been a decent movie, and probably made some money. if you take all the shock and gore and disgustingness out..its still a pretty decent 'new' story, that could of been a good movie on its own.

  • Mr. Arkadin | June 3, 2011 4:22 AMReply

    @Virtual Visor

    I'm not. I've got no idea how this could possibly have anything to do with CC. Your "argumentation" makes no sense. I did not insinuate that "Salo" is subtle or does convey exceptional depth. Pasolini certainly made more thought-provoking films (like "Theorem"). However there are still many layers of artistry between Salo and ASF. If you can't detect these differences, it's most likely because of your lack of interest and/or experience in the subject of art (i.e. cinema).

  • Virtual Visor | May 28, 2011 7:05 AMReply

    Hey Arkadin - are you that same Arkadin dork who's all over blu-ray.com?

    P.S. lmfao at Salos "undisputable intellectual value" - at the end of the day Salo's symbolism and thematic reach is about as heavy handed and simplistic as that of ASF's...but of course the former is 30+ years old and was given the Criterion treatment, thus is prime masturbatory material for pseudo-intellectual twits the world over.

  • Megan | May 20, 2011 5:16 AMReply

    Gabe! My favorite reviewer, always!

    Great write-up, the ratings at the end are perfectly apt and your overall take on it is more than fair. Most reviews have been quick to dismiss this as "torture porn" which is terribly short-sighted (the term is better applied to the gory comedic face-palm turns of something like "Hostel" or "Human Centipede"). "Serbian Film" is undoubtedly a harrowing, heavy trip but well worth it if you have the bearings and with nothing sacrificed in the way of quality - quite similar to the outstanding French film "Martyrs" in that way.

  • Mr. Arkadin | May 14, 2011 1:16 AMReply

    This has nothing to do with the stomach, but with the brain. The political commentary of "A Serbian Film" is simple-minded.

    Take for example Pasolini's "Salo" as a piece of controversial art with indisputable intellectual value - there is an obvious difference at work on every level.

    I'd rather watch "Earthlings" clockwork-orange-style while being force-fed a whole road kill skunk than watching this brain damaging mess.

  • Liana | May 13, 2011 11:12 AMReply

    Torture porn, sorry I don't want to stick around to understand the psychology behind it.

  • Nik | May 13, 2011 9:32 AMReply

    @Toro. That's a MUCH better title and the film's not half-bad either. But no. I meant more like Kusturica's Palme D'or winning films like "Underground", Makavejev's stuff, Pretty Village Pretty Flame .. and many more...

  • Spit | May 13, 2011 7:01 AMReply

    Agreed, Mr Anonymous. That's a perfect way to way to rate this movie.

    I'd never watch it again, but through all of the shock and nihilism (I took a shower after seeing it), there's some strong performances and it feels authentic. It's not a Human Centipede/Teeth - people who make that comparison look like morons.

  • Gabe Toro | May 13, 2011 6:19 AMReply

    You mean like "The Life And Death Of A Porno Gang"?
    El Oh El.

  • Nik | May 13, 2011 6:05 AMReply

    Saw this at the Fantasia Fest last year in Montreal, uncut and 100% demented. The rating is very fair because underneath the shocking events there is a clear message, strong acting and technically savvy editing skills.

    Just a shame that the filmmaker's chose to stick with that title. No doubt, many people's stomachs will turn at a mere mention of any other Serbian films, many of which are hilarious and not nearly as disturbing.

  • Alex | May 13, 2011 5:50 AMReply

    What I simply don't get is, considering the general tone of this movie, how the MPAA could ever give it even an NC-17 even with cuts. I've seen This Film is Not Yet Rated and I can't imagine THOSE people sitting through even a toned down version of this film without running from it in horror, trying to burn the negative. It just doesn't make sense to me that even an edited version of A Serbian Film could possibly warrant the same rating as something like Orgazmo.

  • Mr Anonymous | May 13, 2011 5:44 AMReply

    ''For those with the stomach… [B]
    For everyone else… [F]''

    I like that. It makes sense.

  • cirkusfolk | May 13, 2011 5:15 AMReply

    What happens to the baby?

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