A SERBIAN FILM starts out with a young boy stumbling upon a porno his father left lying around the house. The child watches the film with wide eyes, not fully understanding it. Of course, when his parents enter the room, the mother freaks and takes the child out of the room while the father is less reactionary. Turns out the father, Milos, is the man in the film having sex with another porn actor. A few beats later, the child and his parents talk about this experience misunderstanding what went on in the film and thinking that his father was hurting the woman. The boy was uncomfortable about how his body felt after seeing the film. A bit later in an extremely sophisticated and surprisingly mature scene, Milos explains to his son that the feelings he is having in his body are natural though he might not understand it right now. In a metaphorical sense, we, the viewer of A SERBIAN FILM are the child, experiencing the horrors that are soon to come, not fully understanding it and not particularly liking the feelings the film is making us endure. But horror exists in the world and the makers of A SERBIAN FILM seem to want to make that blaringly clear. And though the horrors enacted in A SERBIAN FILM are among the most deplorable a body can do to another, they do represent that dark unknown that we are not comfortable thinking or talking about; those taboos that many feel shouldn’t be brought up. Because of this, A SERBIAN FILM is a very effective film. Exploitative? Debatable. Horrific? Most definitely.
I know the mere mention of A SERBIAN FILM often causes a talkback fervor of monumental proportions from self-righteous folks who haven’t seen the film, damning those who dare cover it, and calling for crucifixion of those giving it any kind of praise. I do recognize the acts in this film as deplorable and disgusting. There are moments I can’t unwatch or forget. I can honestly say that A SERBIAN FILM is the most notorious film I’ve ever seen in the way it unflinchingly depicts unspeakable acts of inhuman horror against innocents. I recognize the anger some may feel toward this film and numerous times while I was watching it, I debated about whether or not I wanted to continue. But as deplorable as A SERBIAN FILM was, I still had a curiosity to see how far the filmmakers would push those boundaries we never though were breachable. Turns out the hells this film plunges into has many, many fathoms. When the credits rolled, I sat silently for a moment—trying to process what happened and trying to come up with something rational or relevant to write about.
Dissecting this film from the content is one way I found myself wanting to look at A SERBIAN FILM. A former porn star is convinced to do one last job with an eccentric director for a huge amount of money that will make his loving family comfortable for the rest of their lives. But he doesn’t count on the terror the director is capable of. As an exercise in breaking taboos and causing a reaction in one’s audience, A SERBIAN FILM is an over the top success. There are things in this film I never thought would ever be depicted on camera. If A SERBIAN FILM does not cause a reaction in a viewer, I sincerely fear that person.
Could the filmmakers have made a film without the over the top sexual violence? I think so. I think as much as the filmmakers try to state that this is a comment on violence–not only in cinema but on a world wide scope, I think a better filmmaker could have conveyed the horror without showing so much of it. The entire last forty minutes of A SERBIAN FILM is a non-stop montage of brutal violence as a decent man is turned to a sexual monster frothing at the mouth, using his penis as a weapon, and destructively fornicating out of sheer animal rage. And it’s all shown on screen with very little cuts. The camera doesn’t blink. Milos has devolved into man’s most primal instincts to procreate or die. The camera lingers more than a bit too long on this sexual violence to not think that there was some kind of fascination with the brutal acts going on behind the filmmakers’ lens. I understand the point of showing violence to raise awareness or manipulate a viewer, but there also comes a point when it is fetishized, and I think that point was definitely reached here.
I will say that I cared for the Serbian family in the film and that was due to some skilled filmmaking at the beginning; developing these characters so fully that I felt for them when they were in danger. So despite the way the filmmakers lingered on the violence too long in the latter half, the set up was constructed extremely well and provided a solid emotional core. Had the filmmakers not established such a likable and relatable family, I doubt the rest of the film would have been as terrifying.
Though the subject is pornography, no one is going to watch A SERBIAN FILM and think of it as a film to spank it to and if you get a half-chub watching this, please seek help. This is a horror film in its most basic sense–it horrifies the viewer (it certainly did with this viewer). I try to justify my love of horror by telling folks I love the feeling of being scared. That exhilaration. That thrill. But that’s not the way I felt while watching A SERBIAN FILM. I was truly terrified of what was happening and who it was happening to. Uncomfortably terrified. And I hated the feeling. This wasn’t fun. I will say that A SERBIAN FILM is a film I won’t soon forget though and for that, it is an effective piece of cinema.
Having endured A SERBIAN FILM, though, I can safely say that don’t ever want to see it again.