A Serbian Film [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Invincible Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (5th December 2011).
The Film

It occurred to me as the end credits rolled on “A Serbian Film” (2010) that I must be incredibly desensitized to all forms of screen violence at this point in my life. Either that or the filmmakers failed to do what they so clearly intended – namely, to create a film so controversial and sickening that it would be forever etched in the memories of all who see it. Frankly, I found myself bored by the first hour and unimpressed with the final stretch. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this is a film everyone can watch. The average moviegoer would likely walk out in disgust before we even get to “the good stuff”, leaving only the hardened horror junkies to bear witness to director Srđan Spasojević’s pornographic gore fest. I’m just going to lump it in with “Inside” (2007), "Martyrs" (2008) and "Frontier(s)" (2007) as another example of a foreign film riding a tsunami of controversy & hype that is unable to deliver on actually being a solid film. This happens seemingly every year, and it almost always ends up with the same results – a lurid wave of gore & sex intended to mask the undeniable fact that there’s barely anything resembling a plot at play. Movies like “A Serbian Film” aren’t made to be films; they’re made to capitalize on a series of disturbing scenes within the framework of a plot so thin it’s almost non-existent. The reason, of course, is that if you’re fortunate enough to generate a great deal of “buzz” about your film it’ll sell out screenings and enjoy a successful shelf life on home video as curious viewers seek it out to see if it’s as disturbing as they’ve heard, as though watching it were akin to wearing some cinematic badge of honor. It’s not, though. This is merely another exercise is seeing what moviegoers are able to endure. If rom-coms are your thing, chances are you’ll lose your lunch early on. But if you’re a seasoned horror buff who’s seen it all… you’ll survive unscathed.

Miloš (Srđan Spasojević) is a former porn star who’s been living the quiet family life with his wife, Marija (Jelena Gavrilović), and son, Petar (uncredited). They live somewhat comfortably, but Miloš feels as though he’s struggling to make ends meet in his post-porn career. He’s approached by a former co-star, Lejla (Katarina Žutić), to meet with a man named Vukmir (Sergej Trifunović), a wealthy pornographer who desperately wants to work with Miloš. You see, Miloš has a talent bigger than his sizeable member (we see plenty of it, though I’m unsure if a prosthetic was used exclusively) – he’s able to obtain an erection and maintain it for hours without any visual or physical stimuli, only using the power of his mind. Vukmir promises to provide Miloš with enough money to make sure Petar dies a wealthy man. For such a seemingly easy task, Miloš wisely accepts, but the only catch is that Vukmir isn’t going to let him in on the plot details. Cameras follow Miloš around discreetly as Vukmir pushes him into more and more extreme sexual situations, culminating in Miloš refusing to participate anymore after viewing a particularly disturbing scenario. Unwilling to part with his star, Vukmir has a busty female “doctor” inject Miloš with a cocktail of chemicals designed to keep him in a perpetual state of sexual arousal and heightened aggression, the major side effect of which is that Miloš remembers nothing that he’s done for the past 3 days. When he awakens, he finds video evidence of his escapades… and I’ll just say it makes the forgotten antics of the guys from “The Hangover” (2009) look like a Sesame Street video.

One thing that completely flew over my head during the film was the political allegory that the filmmakers intended audiences to draw from the film. Here’s all I know about Serbia: it sucks. Ok, ok… maybe that’s slight hyperbole, but the region is in a constant state of chaos at any given moment, so it seems. The only support and funding for filmmakers comes from the state, and they’re only in the business of making films that mask the true atrocities that occur in the country. Typical Serbian films are sappy stories of war & love, pandering to a mindless audience that’s fed the same derivative drivel year in and year out. The irony here, in the filmmakers’ eyes, is that these films are what are wrong with the country, not the brutal pornography that we’re treated to. I suppose if I were more attuned to the behind-the-scenes politics of Serbia, then I might have found some gallows humor in the fact that they’ve managed to craft such a bold & daring film within this oppressive system, but without that knowledge this comes across as simply another foreign film desperate to obtain enough notoriety that it becomes internationally known. It’s refreshing to know that there was an element at play here aside from just trying to offend and repulse audiences but, as I said, I don’t think the majority of the film’s target audience is going to have the slightest clue there’s any subtext at all.
I had some friends who managed to catch a theatrical screening of the film last year, and they all made it seem like they were profoundly affected by what was seen. One of them even remarked to me that it made him feel more depressed about humanity as a whole than any other film he’d ever seen. I find the reactions to “A Serbian Film” to be more fascinating than the product itself in many ways. I’ve heard of people feeling morose and stoic, while others are practically incensed that such outrageous actions have been committed to celluloid. There’s a lot of fringe material here – sick things that have maybe been alluded to in films that display more tact, or perhaps they’ve been shown as graphically as possible in some low-budget shockers, but I can’t think of another film shot with such beauty and conviction that pushes the envelope so far. I’m not going to spoil anything, but suffice it to say this film will test the limits of what you’re willing to endure. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t even think about asking your girlfriend to watch it unless she’s a seasoned gorehound who can handle just about anything. This is the kind of film that might make a person reevaluate a relationship, wondering if the person you’re with is as sick as the film they’ve just put on. When I watch a film, no matter how disturbing some of the content may be, I always know it’s actors reacting to FX work. Try to remember that as you literally watch someone get skullf*cked to death.

I know why “A Serbian Film” exists, and it isn’t to shine a light on the terrors of Serbian life. Anyone out there who cares one iota about Serbian life probably wouldn’t last once the action kicks in. As a film that’s been banned or heavily censored in almost every country in which it’s been shown, there are various iterations out there available for purchase. This edition contains the most complete version of the film available with English subtitles, though it’s still missing a couple of the most incendiary shots. Without ruining the surprise, there are two shots that have been omitted here. One is during the scene where Vukmir shows Miloš his new foray into porno (which causes a disgusted Miloš to walk out), and the other reveals who is the second person under the sheet during the climax. Both can be easily figured out by the viewer, and considering the nature of the scenes I’m not sure if it would have been worse to actually show them or leave it up to the mind of the viewer to fill in the blanks.

Video

Srđan Spasojević wants to make sure you don’t miss a single detail of his film, so “A Serbian Film” has the distinction of boasting one undeniably gorgeous image. The 25GB, single-layered disc sports a 2.40:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is slick, polished and provides a veritable window into a world most people can’t imagine. Shot using the RED One camera, the greatest benefit apparent to viewers will be the tremendous level of detail present in each frame. The color palette appears to have been de-saturated to the point where things appear drab and muted across the board, but the image never reaches the point of being washed out. The picture skews heavily toward hues of brown and dark red, the latter taking control of the screen for most of the final act. It’s one thing to watch a low-budget horror film full of obvious practical FX, but it’s another entirely to see such graphic displays of sex & violence in exquisite detail. I was particularly impressed with the cinematography of Nemanja Jovanov, who clearly made a great effort to shoot such repulsive subject matter with respect and an eye for exposing small details that add to the horror. In some ways I’m reminded of “The Human Centipede” (2010), another grotesquerie that’s been shot with such an eye for detail and composition that it’s impossible to argue it doesn’t at the very least look impeccable. In some ways I find this shooting style preferable to the faux-grindhouse aesthetic everyone seems to be trying to achieve. If your FX work has the chops, why not showcase it in crisp, hi-def glory? You’ll want to hurl, but you won’t be able to look away.

Audio

Not a whole lot to write home about here… The film’s Serbian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound mix is a front-loaded, sparse track with limited range and a minimal soundtrack. I’d almost suspect this was done intentionally to keep viewers locked in on the visuals rather than focus on audible cues. Not that it’s going to matter to 95% of viewers, but the dialogue is set at a well-balanced level. I sometimes tend to zone out on the actual spoken words during foreign films since – let’s face it – most people are too busy reading to pay close enough attention. I don’t know why the film was only given such a limited mix on this Blu-ray. I would assume something shot this beautifully would have a multi-channel track to go along with it, but it could also just be that the studio putting out this title is cheap and they don’t want to spend money on giving buyers what they deserve. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

Nothing is included here aside from a downloadable digital copy of the film. You have to register for a website before doing so, though.

Packaging

The single disc comes in a Blu-ray keep case. There’s a slip-cover included with the initial pressing. The artwork is very plain, almost to the point of being extremely easy to overlook if you found it in a store.

Overall

I feel like this is a film that people are watching just to say they’ve seen it. I highly doubt there are devoted fans out there who consider this to be a film worthy of repeat viewings. I’m sure the underage Hot Topic crowd still gets off on horror movies that offer up little aside from gore gags and boobs, but I require a little more than that to keep my interest piqued. Any statements being made by the film are completely overshadowed by the activity seen on screen. I’ve got a stronger constitution than most, so I’m hesitant to recommend it to anyone that’s even slightly squeamish or easily offended. It’s worth a watch to say you’ve seen it, but not much more than that.

The Film: C- Video: A- Audio: B Extras: D- Overall: C

 


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