Director/Producer – Srdjan Spasojevic, Screenplay – Aleksander Radivojevic & Srdjan Spasojevic, Photography – Nemanja Jovanov, Music – Sky Wikluh, Special Effects – Petar Zivkovic, Special Effects Masks – Miroslav Lakobrija, Production Design – Nemanja Petrovic & Ivana Protic. Production Company – Film Srdjan Spasojevica/Ekipa Filma.
Srdan Todorovich (Milos), Sergej Trifunovic (Vukmir), Jelena Gavrilovic (Marija), Slobodan Bestic (Marko), Katarina Zutic (Lejla), Miodrag Krcmarik (Rasa), Ana Sakic (Crying Mother), Lena Bogdanovic (Doctor)
In Belgrade, Milos is a porn film actor who has retired to settle down with his wife Marija and young son Petra. He receives an offer via a former colleague to meet with the mysterious Vukmir who offers a substantial amount of money for Milos to make another film. Vukmir will not give any indication of what the film requires, other than to call it art. This makes Milos feel uneasy but he is tempted by the money and signs up. As filming gets underway, Milos is pushed into increasingly more disturbed acts such as performing in front of children and having sex with a woman as she is beaten. When he decides he wants out, Vukmir’s men abduct and then drug him to engage in even more extreme acts.
The mid-00s saw interest swing to Eastern Europe as a horror venue. Chiefly there was Hostel (2005) and it identification of Slovakia as a lawless country where tourists were abducted and killed in a torture-for-profit operation. We saw similar ideas turn up in films like 13 Tzameti (2005), Severance (2006) and I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013). You suspect that most of these films took their ideas from media reports of rampant lawlessness and human trafficking going on in the former republics of the Soviet Union, as well as stories of these countries being used as so-called Black Sites by the Bush Government for the torture of prisoners because they fall outside the province of the UN human rights charter.
The surprise then came a couple of years later when Eastern Europe started to get into the act and pushed things even further than Hostel did first with Life and Death of Porno Gang (2009), followed by A Serbian Film here. Both of these films hail from Serbia and have very similar plots about pornographic actors who are drawn into the world of extremes, eventually including snuff filmmaking.
A Serbian Film was considered so extreme that it was cut or outrightly banned in fairly much every country it has screened. In fearless pursuit of material, this author has managed to locate an uncut copy – even if it is a pirated English subtitled screener where all the actors have been dubbed into Russian by a single voice. A Serbian Film appears to have been made for the sole purpose of setting out to offend people’s sensibilities – director Srdjan Spasojevic made various statements to the effect that he made it as a kick in the eye against the lack of censorship that went on in the former Yugoslavia. It should be warned that A Serbian Film is not recommended for the casual genre viewer – it is about as hardcore as it gets and certainly pushes the material into some genuinely uncomfortable places.
Srdjan Spasojevic’s desire to offend hits in from the opening scene where we see Srdan Todorovich’s young son uncomprehendingly watching one of his father’s pornographic videos. In the subsequent scene, a marital disagreement between Srdan Todorovich and wife Jelena Gavrilovic ends up with him sexually forcing himself on her. We are gradually drawn into the world of the porno film shoot. Nothing is explained about what Srdan Todorovich is supposed to be doing but we know the answer to this from the press that A Serbian Film has been getting. There is a sense of foreboding as the shoot at the orphanage starts and men in black fatigues surround Todorovich holding cameras, following him with military precision.
Things becomes increasingly more disturbed as we get to a scene where Todorovich is being given a blowjob while film of children licking ice cream plays out on video screens above him – Srdjan Spasojevic is outrageous enough to abruptly cut between Todorovich reaching his orgasm in the woman’s mouth and one of the children licking her lips. This paedophilia-by-editing-suggestion continues in the subsequent scene where Todorovich’s police officer brother Slobodan Bestic is watching videos from Todorovich’s son’s birthday party while with a hooker where we get similar cuts made between the blowing up of a balloon and the hooker orally performing on him.
Things become increasingly more upsetting from there. In one scene, Srdan Todorovich is taken to a bare room and sees a woman (Ana Sakic) being battered by one of the guards who is then made to give him a blowjob, as all the while a child sits watching on. When he objects, he is grabbed around the throat by one of the guards and made to continue, being told to beat the woman until he ejaculates across her face.
The film’s single most stomach-churning scene – one that tips an uneasy edge between pushing buttons and heading over into the genuinely sick – is a scene where Srdan Todorovich is made to watch a film where we see a woman giving birth to a child in gory, no-holds-barred detail and then the chauffeur (Miodrag Krcmarik) comes in, drops his pants and fucks the newborn baby. Thankfully, everything is only suggested, as one has doubts that they would be able to keep their lunch down if the film tried to push any further past this point.
Things become even more disturbed. There is a completely whacked scene where a drugged Srdan Todorovich is made to have sex with a chained woman and is urged to beat her, where he starts to get into it, is then handed a machete and in the midst of his drugged frenzy wields it to hack off her head – only to continue to hump her headless body until he reaches his orgasm.
The film comes together in an exceedingly nasty climax [PLOT SPOILERS]. Here Srdan Todorovich is joined by a masked figure and forced at gunpoint to have sex with two hooded figures who are bound to a bed. In the midst of their frenzy, the hoods and masks are whipped off to show that Todorovich’s co-orgiast is his brother Slobodan Bestic and that Bestic is fucking Todorovich’s wife Jelena Gavrilovic while Todorovich is having sex with his own young son.
A Serbian Film is a grim and nasty work. It is morally unpleasant viewing but is also undeniably effective in terms of pushing an audience way beyond any comfort zone and forcing them to watch taboo acts being enacted. It is hard to defend films like this or other works such as Salo or 120 Days of Sodom (1975) and Cannibal Holocaust (1979) that similarly push cinema to absolute extremes because the issues they stir up are surrounded by so much in the way of moral shock. These works are defensible in the sense that works of confrontational artists such as Damien Hirst, Andres Serrano and Chris Ofili are defensible and so long as one needs not look upon art as something that must have a sense of morally and emotionally uplifting purpose. They are films designed to shake you up and upset. They take you to a certain place – the sort of taboo areas that no sane individual should ever hope to have to traverse in their lifetime – and make you confront the actuality of what you see. That is their sum emotional effect, which is surely just as defensible as a film like Eat Pray Love (2010) that desires to make you feel good and inspired about the world.
Director Srdjan Spasojevic subsequently went onto make the R is for Removed segment of The ABCs of Death (2012).