Review: A Serbian Film

Originally released in 2010, Srdan Spasojevic’s purposely repulsive meditation on his country’s spiritual rot is being rereleased in Japan in a sparkling renovated 4K version that seems hardly necessary given what the viewer has to watch, and yet much of A Serbian Film‘s transgressive energy relies on the way its visual tone changes from one medium to another, since much of what takes place on screen is something recreated either on old tape, new tape, or within the mind of the protagonist, a semi-retired porn star named Milos (Srdan Todorovic). Moreover, the parts of the film that are supposed to be taking place in the cinematic “present” are carefully lit for maximum effect so as to throw the viewer off the scent of where the story is going.

That story starts out simply enough. Retirement for Milos, considered the greatest porn actor of his generation, at least in Serbia, isn’t quite as relaxed as he had hoped. He finds it difficult to support his wife, Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic), a freelance translator, and young son, and when an offer comes through an old associate to do one last film with a shadowy but hilariously pretentious director named Vukmir (Sergei Trifunovic) for a lot of money, he reluctantly takes it, even though he doesn’t really know what the movie will entail except that, as Vukmir explains, it will be a work of art like nothing ever produced in Serbia, which he describes as being “one big shitty kindergarten.” But once production of the movie starts in earnest, A Serbian Film abandons its linear development for a more patchwork structure that seems to be dictated by Milos’s drug-addled consciousness, or lack thereof. The film is being shot in an institution for orphans and abused children, who end up figuring heavily in many scenes, and not just as witnesses to the violent debauchery that Vukmir stages and Milos, pumped up with cattle aphrodisiac, partakes in with little of the professional nuance he brought to his more conventional work. In fact, he sometimes wakes up bloody and doesn’t remember what he did, and thus has to clandestinely secure the tapes and watch the horrors on a camcorder screen. 

What most viewers take away from A Serbian Film is Spasojevic’s willingness to push every taboo way past its acceptable limit, which is to say that while it gets really disgusting you never entertain the notion that these scenes are anything more than ingeniously staged slices of horror, and thus lack the truly disturbing element that Gaspar Noe brings to his own peculiar brand of transgressive cinema. But while the movie doesn’t impress as much as Spasojevic—who, I suspect, used himself as Vukmir’s scummy model—likely thinks it does, its jaundiced portrayal of a larger society through a very circumscribed subculture is convincing. I imagine Serbians don’t appreciate Spasojevic’s title, which implies the film is some sort of last word, but even if I don’t have firsthand experience with his country, I understood exactly what he was trying to say. (Note: The press screener I saw was the uncut version, which is banned in most countries. The new Japanese version for public consumption may be altered somewhat, but no scenes will be taken out.)

In Serbian. Now playing in Tokyo at Cinemart Shinjuku (03-5369-2831), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551.

A Serbian Film home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2010 Contrafilm 201

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