A Serbian Film has just been released on DVD in Australia and will be the opening night film at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF).
An aging porn star agrees to participate in an 'art film' directed by an insane man, only to discover that art is truly subjective.
Warning, spoilers follow, in fact when viewing this film for the first time it is best to know as little as possible regarding plot, for everyone else, read on.
I was reluctant to watch A Serbian Film; the initial stigmata for non-viewers trumped that of The Human Centipede. Already these types of films have an infamous streak. Couple this with the fact that I have never seen an actual Serbian film at all. Regardless, down the rabbit hole I went, were there any regrets?
Firstly, focusing on the positives, A Serbian Film looks amazing; it is slick, the colours bright and fluid and the cinematography affecting. To accompany these bold visuals is a thumping feverish soundtrack that permeates almost every scene.
The word filth is the first thing you see and it is visible on the wall as Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), the tragic protagonist, grinds a porn star in a fake alley way; zooming out, only to reveal his young son is watching him on one of his old porn tapes. Real family values on display here as Milos casually turns it off after entering the living room and pours himself a Jack Daniels. A Serbian Film has already begun to plant the seed of its intentions; filthy, taboo voyeurism and it will only go downhill from here.
The clean visuals create a bubble effect of unrealism; this whole world is immersed in it, from every actor's intentionally corny lines and stiff movements. Make no mistake, the utter stark and darkness of human nature is evident here, it is just given a plastic makeover. Undertones of what is to come are repeated in the first half of the movie, one scene in particular in which Milos violently has sex with his wife proves passionless and animalistic.
Milos himself is described as 'terribly professional', and he meets a former work mate (read porn star) who casually informs him of her most recent exploits into bestiality and then drops a director's name and a possible job opportunity for him; working on an art film. After discussing the idea with his sleazy brother who is for some reason a police man, Milos meets the director Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) who refers to Milos as an 'artist of fuck', at this point alarm bells are ringing when the first scene of the 'art film' is performed. Milos should probably leave at this point, but perhaps the darkness in him enforces his stay.
In a later scene, Milos is having a picnic with his family, here his son bites into an apple that falls from a tree, and it is very iconic and signifies innocence lost. As Milos performs in the 'art film' his perversely jealous brother visits Milos' wife every chance he can and watches her when she is not looking. All of these scenes in A Serbian Film are set-ups for the truly horrific circumstances that are to follow and work pretty well in this regard.
Milos eventually has reservations, and rightly so, regarding the acts he is given to perform. He opts out of the 'art film', but of course, it is too late. The insane director has him, and after unveiling his scene of 'new-born porn' (yes, exactly how it sounds) and describing his ridiculous theories of pornography as life itself Milos leaves, in a hurry. What follows is a twisted horrible fairytale of events.
Milos wakes up, bloody and bruised, days have passed and physical evidence of what he has done begins to reveals itself. Then the flashbacks begin; different horrors in different places play in his head; snippets of very disturbing imagery flash on screen as his mind reels and he tries to put the pieces together. It is certainly a 'fun' trip down memory lane and the pacing is ingenious through these fragmented flashbacks. This is particularly the case when he finds individual films and replays them on a handy-cam. The scenes were reminiscent of the end credits sequence in Todd Philips The Hangover; only lacking anything even mildly close to humour.
It is at this point, when the truth is revealed and all is said and more importantly done, that my review notes turned into violent scribbles of 'no no no no'. To recover from the climax of the film, only to be subjected to the last few seconds which were ultimately worse, was definitely where A Serbian Film peaked.
A Serbian Film is a very disturbing film, made viewable by the fact that it treats its scenario and characters like a dark fairytale as opposed to something from real life. It is worth mentioning that a lot of the atrocities are reminiscent of the Serbian war conflict, but to read into this would be its own separate essay. The visuals and soundtrack certainly help this depraved trip, but a fair warning needs to be given; some images will not leave your head for a long, long time.