SXSW 2010: A SERBIAN FILM Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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SXSW 2010: A SERBIAN FILM Review
There is a part of me that feels sorry for Srdjan Spasojevic. He has, you see, just created a debut film that will linger in infamy. No matter what lies in the future for Spasojevic he will always be the director of A Serbian Film and that may prove a difficult mantle to bear.  A Serbian Film is one of the most incredibly raw and transgressive films I have ever seen. This is a film that left me feeling dirty and assaulted, a film that will surely spark protest and deservedly so. A film that contains a flurry of genuinely shocking imagery sure to spark genuine horror and revulsion from its audience. Spasojevic is always going to be the man responsible for that film.

There is, however, another part of my that feels an overwhelming admiration for Spasojevic and what he has done here. A Serbian Film is one of the most assured and technically accomplished debut films I have come across in some time. More importantly as raw as the imagery may be it is never without a point. As extreme as it gets this is no mere exploitation film. No, this is a satire as sharp and pointed and genuinely shocking as was Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal was when it first appeared on the scene suggesting that the poor sell their children as food. A Serbian Film is an astoundingly bold piece of work one that will not just trigger a firestorm of criticism - any fool with bad taste can do that - but one that also has the substance and purpose to withstand it. And Spasojevic is always going to be the man responsible for that film.

An angry deconstruction of the cycles of violence that have crossed over generations and ravaged Serbia's recent history, A Serbian Film revolves around Milosh - family man and semi-retired porn star. He tries to lead a normal life but time are hard and he knows only one way to provide for his young family so when money runs tight Milosh takes on the occasional job to make ends meet. Little does he know that one of these jobs will be his undoing.

A former colleague comes to Milosh with a proposal. A change is coming. A way out of the cheap trash he's been starring in to make ends meet. There's a new player on the market. a well-financed creator of art-porn. Very well financed. And very well paying. And he is a fan of Milosh's work. One job for him and Milosh could removed the 'semi' from 'semi-retired'. The only catch being that he will never know what the film is about. He will never see a script. He will simply have to react to whatever scenario the director places him in.

And the scenarios are dark indeed. Rape fantasy is just the beginning. The blending of sex and violence here is troubling in the extreme, the extremes the porn director willing to go to to provide his audience a voyeuristic thrill absolutely sickening. There is no depravity, only profit, and damn the human cost.

As Milosh descends into madness Spasojevic tracks his descent with an unwavering eye. Though he shows less than he makes you think he does, Spasojevic's work is graphic in the extreme and graphic in ways that will turn the stomach. He employs his considerable technical skills in an all-out assault of his audience. This is a film meant to punish, not to entertain, and it succeeds absolutely. It is genuinely sickening and that is entirely the point. An enjoyable experience? I sincerely hope not. But incredibly powerful, Just don't bring your mother.

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Srdjan SpasojevicAleksandar RadivojevicSrdjan 'Zika' TodorovicSergej TrifunovicJelena GavrilovicSlobodan BesticHorrorMysteryThriller

More about A Serbian Film

max404March 15, 2010 11:04 AM

so how does this one relate to 'The Life and Death of a Porno Gang'?

I had already mistakenly thought they re-named that film until I found out there are TWO new Serbian films that mix porn, horror and satire

(have seen none of the two but they both seem worthwile seeing)

ghoul73March 15, 2010 11:12 AM

perhaps this review will clarify the similarities and differences between the 2 films:
http://templeofghoul.blogspot.com/2009/12/life-and-death-of-porn-gang-2009.html

and while I'm at it, here's MY take on SERBIAN FILM too:
http://templeofghoul.blogspot.com/2010/03/serbian-film-2010.html

BtoFuMarch 15, 2010 11:20 AM

I'd rather hit up a Mel Brooks marathon.

kidlazarusMarch 15, 2010 2:45 PM

Dejan ~ thank you for the additional reviews. A few days ago I noticed the original Serbian-language review for Serbian Film linked on imdb. Of course the google translator mangled it. However, I did notice there was extensive information involving the production and how this film is more of an independent work than Life and Death of a Porno Gang.


In any event, I'm more intrigued to see A Serbian Film and Life and Death of a Porno Gang than before. And, given their subject matter and unflinching approach, particularly of A Serbian Film, I imagine they'll only receive limited festival runs in North America.


Will there even be a well-intentioned distributor brave enough to touch these? Probably some hack will dump them off as the next level of "extreme horror" and lump them in with the likes of Murder Set Pieces, Amateur Porn-Star Killer and so forth.


An earlier Twitch write up made a connection to David Cronenberg. And in a sense Videodrome comes to mind: "It's political." Something Todd brings up in this review with the Johnathan Swift satire furthers that. Given the history of the Balkan region it is no wonder there are select films and film-makers with pitch-black wit and scathing commentary.

ghoul73March 15, 2010 3:04 PM

Life and Death of a Porno Gang had a lot of luck to get its entire funding from the Government - although it's extremely subersive both in style and in content, and does not pussyfoot about links between the system (esp. police) and oppression and violence.

Serbian Film is entirely funded by the director, i.e. it is the 1st film in Serbia in which not even a small part, not a tiniest $$$ has come from any kind of Governemnt support (which one usually gets, even in symbolic amounts).

The laboratory in Germany actually burned the print of Serbian Film that they made when they saw the film, and it had numerous troubles to be transferred to film (shot digital on RED camera) and to have prints made. It would make for a great extra on DVD some day.

No Serbian distributor dared touch it with a 10 foot pole, and at the moment Serbian premiere and distribution are under question. Hopefully, if it has some success at foreign festivals, it might get some kind of distribution.

anémiqueMarch 15, 2010 6:25 PM

wanna see this now.
ifc pick this up!

Rodney PerkinsMarch 15, 2010 10:42 PM

The SXSW screening of this will live in infamy. Unbelievable.

kidlazarusMarch 16, 2010 12:13 AM

the writer doing IFC's blog of SXSW seems none too pleased. And probably gave away too much information.

gruban_malicMarch 16, 2010 1:25 PM

@ghoul73 - do you have any idea how much did the movie cost?

ghoul73March 16, 2010 7:04 PM

I'm not really authorized to say the exact sum, but no one who has seen the film would believe me anyway even if I told you.
Let's just say that the entire budget is way, way below 1 million $

ghoul73March 16, 2010 7:06 PM

kidlazarus: sadly, you're right.
It was really mean to include so many big spoilers in the IFC review without any warning - or reason.

kidlazarusMarch 16, 2010 8:13 PM

It's the reason I didn't bother to include a link.

gruban_malicMarch 17, 2010 6:07 AM

what was your roll in the production?

this is really the boost we all needed, all of us waiting for any sort of governmental aid to shoot something in ex Yugoslavia.

all the luck

ghoul73March 17, 2010 9:44 AM

Btw, you should be aware that there are more than a dozen films made in Serbia so far which could be labeled 'horror'. Of course, the label itself is most unwelcome (see how many horrors in USA are advertised as 'psychological / supernatural thrillers' and the like), so that's why you won't find them on IMDB labeled as horrors.

For a short introduction - a list, brief description, photos from the Serbian horror films - take a look here:
http://templeofghoul.blogspot.com/2010/01/serbian-horror-film.html

Some of the films described on the above link may be seen this July in Fantasia's program SUBVERSIVE SERBIA that Twitch already announced.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnvNI8_yiiLOA_y95Q6GcTGm31xlYoTDqEApril 19, 2010 2:30 PM

The shovel being broken across the back of Serbia is the same one being used to slowly bury the United States. Since 1990 the former Yugoslavia has been the globalist's lab rat for destruction of the independent nation state. As and where the successive republics could not simply be bought off they have been subjected to every form of subversion and aggression; military, economic, political, academic and cultural. In both the US as well as Serbia the minions and muppets of George Soros and his sick fraternity have found that the perversion of civic and personal virtues with the aid of cheap traitors can succeed in destroying a nation where no number of bombs or sanctions could in years past. In spite of a comprehensive and punitive disadvantaged status imposed on the Nation's advancement, Serbia had, up to now no less managed enrich the world the unique vision of her prolific cinematic culture that has above all else, defended and illuminated the humanity of the Serbian people in a hypocritical world that would still dismiss an entire people as sadistic monsters. With the release of the pornographic garbage that is "A Serbian Film" this last bastion of pride and also brutally honest self critique is forever tainted in it's context. And so as the further destruction and shame wrought on Serbian society and culture declares this experiment a success, be sure that we will see similar regressive efforts financed and mainstreamed in the United States as they eagerly redraw our also once proud free and sovereign nation as something not worth saving in the popular view of humanity.

studog888May 15, 2010 9:30 PM

Iv got to agree, you cant just put sick pornographic stuff out there, im not a fan of censorship, some classic art and film is just as shocking but we need to know as humans( with sense !!) where to draw the line.
Iv not seen a serbian film yet but i will and then ill make my judgement wether to let the kids watch it!...

InktcartridgesJune 11, 2010 9:33 PM

A Mel Brooks marathon. LOL

PeterJuly 23, 2010 8:22 PM

the problem with that is who creates the line, and who enforces it. no censorship ever. having said that, based on your comments, you shouldn't watch this. its "F"ed up.

MonikaJuly 23, 2010 8:39 PM

I watched the movie like an hour ago and I'm still shocked!!!! I've seen some sick sh** during my "movie watching carrier".... But this.... By the end of it I actually thought I was going to puke and when the credits finally started to roll I cried like a baby 'cause of thing I've seen during last hour and a half.... It's not scary at all, it really isn't.... But some of those scenes, especially 2nd half of the movie.... It's way to sick for mine or any normal person taste, I can guaranty that!!!! That sh** just wasn't for me.... Or anyone sane for that matter....

marleaSeptember 2, 2010 9:43 PM

I don't know what this film does. But from the trailer and the discussions about it, one piece of work seems glaringly absent in any consideration of its 'artistic merit'. Which makes me feel this film is somewhat less savagely innovative than it thinks it is. That work would be Sarah Kane's 1995 play 'Blasted' that examines the Srebrenica massacre through the eyes of the complacent journalist and co-opted girlfriend, staying at an opulent hotel. There is gross, graphic ill treatment of a baby at the hands of a Balkan soldier as a metaphor for the rape of the Bosnian Muslims. Kane maintained throughout that it was a humane, angry work that wanted to shake up our assumptions and drag us out of our anaesthetized comfort zone. I can't speak for the film, but it seems (in the trailer at least) to be a little bit second-hand.

totallyagoatSeptember 4, 2010 8:53 AM

The political metaphor is there, but it's hardly interesting, and feels tacked-on. The film itself is great though, it works fine simply as a scary story about a psychotic pornographer and his unfortunate victim. I have to wonder why the director as well as his critics seem to think it terribly important to provide it with further justification. It isn't the head-f---ing ordeal some have claimed (which disappointed me a little, I have to admit); it contains very little a modern horror fan won't have seen before. It isn’t pornographic, either, as it isn’t remotely titillating and provides a clear moral and narrative context for the sex and violence. Visually and atmospherically it's well done and rather unusual; lots of striking and memorable images, like the frightening Alice-in-Wonderland girl sitting in the porno set. To my mind it has above average 'artistic merit' relative to mainstream contemporary horror, but sifting it for political insights is probably a waste of time, even if the director encourages it.

jessicaOctober 21, 2010 9:17 PM

A Serbian Film will be playing at our upcoming film festival at Portage Theater in Chicago on Saturday, October 23rd. http://www.horrorsociety.com/festivals/

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkppUnQPQT1VTRBVr28ZC7agoGUz-LjDUcFebruary 19, 2011 7:41 PM

This write-up contains dialogue from the movie so may be considered a spoiler .

I am tempted to interject my own opinions but who cares what I think anyway . I have the movie as a 5/10 but that is just a neutral number . My real score might be a 0 or it might be a 10 ; I am not going to tell you what it is . I am not going to comment on whether the movie is good or bad , whether it is appropriate viewing or not .

I am going to outline for you what the movie is about but be warned that the movie
is making some very specific political statements and many of those statements
would not be received so well by a western audience . And I am not saying that I agree with any of them ; I am just going to tell you what they are . Spasojevic himself would never spell this out for reasons that will soon become obvious .


Most of the dialogue in the movie is making reference to current issues being
discussed in Serbia . In order to understand those references , you have to pay
very close attention to the dialogue and have a good understanding of the
political and socio-economic situation in Serbia .

As you may know the current government in Serbia is pro-western and was
installed about 10 years ago . Currently in Serbia there is great discontent
with this government but neither have they seen other alternatives so every
election is pretty much deadlocked with many parties joining each other
in order to get enough votes .

Let's start with the contract at the beginning of the film .
Milos says "but i don't know what I am signing" .
Vukmir says "You are not supposed to know. If you know you will not be so good."

The contract represents the deal made with the western powers , at that time 10 years ago ,
in exchange for promises of a better life , a better standard of living .

When Vukmir says "You are not supposed to know. If you know you will not be so good." the
meaning is "if you knew , you would not be obedient to your western masters."

Here Vukmir represents the western powers , the EU , the USA , the architects , the "Directors" ,
of the conflict in the former yugoslavia with the goal of economic exploitation of the region.
This is not a viewpoint exclusive to Spasojevic .See for example the documentary
"Weight of Chains."
Milos represents the Serbian government .

Vukmir : "There is a serious script . We know it , you don't" .
i.e. the west's actions are not just an accident but a carefully planned script .

"Only filmed here , but for the foreign market." is referencing that the Serbs are economic slaves
of the western powers . For example , Serbian industry and assets are being sold off to
foreign investors and corporations , in essence making Serbs employees of foreign
corporations . More about this can be read here :
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=15849

Vukmir says "you could always make your d*** stand up like a c*** at dawn" . This is making
fun of all the sucking up to the west that the Serbian government is doing .

Laylah says to Milos , "The problem with that pension is that it's not lifelong. How much do
you have stashed?" . This is referring to mundane issues about low pensions and how the
privileged have good pensions .

The white rabbit : this is just saying that the promises made to the Serbian government by the west is a fantasy , a fake .
When the guy puts the rabbit to his crotch , the director is telling you what he thinks of those
promises .

The thing about how Milos looks Swedish : This is trying to say that the Serbian government is
"not one of us , they are foreigners , in cohoots with foreign governments"

Vukmir says "Right hand is the sex center in any man . It's a direct line between your brain
and c*** ." If you know the difference between Rightist and Leftist politics , you will see that
this is a sarcastic jab against the Right .

Vukmir says : "Do you know what is proof that there is art in pornography? You , Milos . Your
sense of handling a woman , your rhythm , of exhausting her , your talent to humiliate her ,
and then , when she is reduced to dog-s*** , to win her back ."

More biting sarcasm . This is saying you exhausted NATO , humiliated NATO ( shot down stealth ,
minimal damage to Serbian equipment etc. ) but later you just let her back in .

Milos says "I dunno , I'm a little tired of cameras and f******." This one is obviously
about the civil wars . Cameras are referring to the world news cameras .

Vukmir : "You're also tired of h****** scum any time your family needs dough. Kissing some
wretched c**** with the same lips you' kiss your kid "
This one is about the Serbian government asking for monetary assistance from
the foreign governments ( the scum ) . What kind of h****** ? Western politician says to serbian politician , "Here is some money under the table . Now you arrange to sell us this company for cheap."

You should be able to see now that pornography here is a metaphor for the relationship between the Serbian government and the western governments .

Milos to his wife : "No , he's some kind of artist with a grand plan ... seems like he
desperately needs me since he's willing to offer such cash ." Sarcasm about how
the western governments are waving the carrot in front of the Serbian government .

Marko : "It's not a d*** , it's a police stick ...
why isn't he ... limp , like all the normal people." Spasojevic considers
the current government a fascist police state .

Vukmir : "Transmitted live to the world who has lost all that and now is paying to watch
that from the comfort of an armchair ... Victim sells. " Referring to world media manipulation of the wars .

Vukmir's rants . "This whole country is a bunch of kids discarded by their parents ."
The people have been abandoned by their government ( hence the orphanage setting ) ; the government is busy looking after their own privileges and wheeling and dealings . One frequent complaint you will hear in Serbia is that there is no law .

That's what I have for now ... i am currently working on other portions of the film and I will try to get back here another time .