A Serbian Filmby Max Barashenkov vs. Andrew Kaufman / 18.11.2010
Do you remember when you got stoned and watched Eraserhead for the first time? When you dared yourself to witness the Hungarian shock-fest of Taxidermia? When you rewound the rape scene in Irreversible to make sure you did just see what you thought you saw? Do you recall the physical distress running through your body? The gut-punch of the celluloid fist? If you don’t, then perhaps this will not stir in you any emotion apart from disgust, because what A Serbian Film does, is make the above mentioned films look like High School Musical parodies. It is easily the most maliciously violent, sexually depraved, chauvinistic, satirical and realistic horror/drama made to date and one would be hard pressed to even imagine what could possibly out-do it. Gore-freaks, rejoice – your Jesus has arrived. Hollywood and the rest of the world – shudder at the might of the Serbian ‘fuck you’.
They tie the bruised girl facedown to the bed, like one would in an archaic exorcism. Men in dark suits stand in the corner doing their best to restrain our lead, who is so full of Spanish fly that saliva pours from his mouth onto his erect cock. Then, suddenly, he is free and inside her, raping her. She begins to moan and cry, you recoil in disgust, but it’s just beginning. The director screams, “She’s a junkie cunt, she destroyed her child… Sweet little Jeca watched her mother fuck the junky bums. She is scum! Hit the whore! Hit the bitch!” Our hero begins beating the girl in drugged fury, raining blow after blow on her lower back until a suited man appears and forces a machete into his clenched fist. The director continues, “Imagine she were your son’s mother! Strike her! Hit her…”
What follows next is a plethora of ultra-real horrors that wash over you in Eastern European howls of ‘Kurva! Kurva!’ which phonetically is so much juicier than the trite ‘whore’. Rape, sodomy, forced drug use, snuff, incest; these are just some of the boxes ticked by director Srdjan Spasojevic and it is no wonder the film is banned in its homeland, being the only Serbian production made without state funding. Causing numerous walk-outs during its premiere at the SXSW Festival, A Serbian Film is on its way to becoming a cult hit, if only for the fact that two German (who aren’t known for their weak stomachs) print labs refused to transfer it from digital to film stock after viewing only half of the content. Virtually non-existent distribution will surely curb its impact, but the horror world is abuzz, the files are downloading and the antidote to the Hollywood horror aesthetic is being administered.
The trend of excess in modern horror and exploitation films, especially in the commercial B-grade aimed at the core horror audience, has been gaining momentum – the violence is more vicious, the gore is more explicit, the nudity ever more present. No longer are we satisfied by a 16 age-restriction. R-rated films revel in a celebration of profanity, showing the ability to generate revenue despite limited theatrical releases by increasing the perversity of violence. Subtleties of the psyche, of real human torment, of political or philosophical commentary, all those things that infused early horror cinema, are fading under the torrents of fake blood, intensifying the commodification of moving-image violence to the point that on-screen rape serves no grander purpose than a drawing card. Don’t get us wrong, we cheer when skulls get cut open and babies are thrown into fires, to us it’s just fun and games, more material for a sadistic sense of humour. But what about the rest of the world? A parallel can be drawn with the desensitization of violence in the media – in the 60s and 70s images of napalmed Vietnam fueled a whole protest movement, now burnt-out schools in Iraq cause nothing more than a few raised eyebrows. It is thus appropriate that the film that brings back the meaning, the horror of violence comes from a war-torn country, where civilian targets in Belgrade were bombed with clock-work precision by the American Air Force and televised as signifiers of freedom-building.
A Serbian Film is not only a tour-de-force in terms of its graphic content – from an aesthetic point of view it is almost flawless. Its style is reminiscent of the hyper-real Russian gangster cinema of the late 90s/early 2000s, in turn built on the foundations of the French New Wave. The cinematography is hot enough to make AFDA students cum, the lighting and rendering set the perfect gritty mood. Shot entirely on the RED camera, it in no way gives away its digital origins, carrying all the honesty of image usually reserved for celluloid. The story, while being rather simple, is based on solid human concerns of protecting one’s family from the harsh realities of life. The hero, Milos, a retired porn star, battles with the allure of a glamorous and successful past, torn between it and the family life he now leads. It is this duality, coupled with the need to provide for the future (something that many can relate to) that drives him into the arms of Vukmir, the demonic director, and sets off the chain of atrocities. Horror born from good intentions, a familiar tale.
Go deeper, run it through a theory filter – through Robin Wood’s ‘return of the repressed’ which states that society projects onto the Other what it fears in itself (our destruction of the environment manifests in nature striking back in such films as Birds or The Happening; our slavery to consumerism rising from the grave in Night Of The Living Dead, etc.) – and the film becomes one of the strongest critiques of the Western understanding of ‘art’. In A Serbian Film, the Other is most surely Art, given life through the character of Vukmir, a concept so perverted and so alien to the reality of life, that taboos become brush strokes, the breakdown of human spirit and values – the canvass. The film seems to be a very serious and graphic satire of European art-house cinema, driven home by Vukmir’s rationalization of his ‘newborn porn’ idea (yes, yes, wrap your head around that one) – if it is outlandish enough, it has to be art.
A Serbian Film is the ultimate anti-film, the kind of movie that makes you feel dirty after watching it, makes you question your own, deep-seated perversions, the raw humanity we all hide under the aesthetic of social interaction. It is the cinematic version of the reverse-Viagra – getting a hard-on is impossible for the next 48 hours, the much loved pornography loses its appeal for at least a week. While reactions to this horror masterpiece will be varied, one thing is for certain – no woman should ever watch this. Ever.