Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic
Starring Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Slobodan Bestic
Distributed by Revolver Entertainment
Riding along on a massive wave on controversy, Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film has now washed ashore on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK – albeit in a heavily censored form. The question is: How do the cuts affect the film itself, if at all?
Firstly — for those unaware of the premise behind the movie, A Serbian Film spins the tale of washed-up porno superstar Milos (Todorovic). Struggling to make ends meet and provide for his beautiful wife (Gavrilovic – looking distinctly like Famke Janssen in a few scenes) and young son, Milos just can’t refuse when an old co-star appears with a financially tantalising offer: A hot new director, Vukmir (Trifunovic), is looking for talent to create a masterpiece of porno art – and he wants the best in the business. That means Milos.
The paycheque is huge – enough for Milos to take care of his family for life, but there’s one catch: There is no script, and Milos will not be aware of what the film is about. Rather, he must take direction and simply react to events as they unfold in front of both him and the camera. When the disturbing nature of the film being made is revealed, Milos attempts to leave the production. Of course, the director isn’t so eager to give up his star, and events soon escalate into an explosion of abuse, violence, rape, mutilation, degradation and sheer human horror.
While the spotlight has, of course, been shone on Spasojevic’s film due to its extreme and uncompromising depictions of sexual brutality (and most notoriously, the rape of a newborn baby), it actually deserves higher exposure for being an exceptionally well made film. The cinematography is crisp and confident, the direction (for a debut film, no less) remarkably assured, and the screenplay is tight – handling the initial mystery and characterisation of the first act alongside the intense and extreme nature of the last with equal aplomb. The cast are, across the board, absolutely perfect. As Milos, leading man Todorovic sells us a wholly human character – a family man who happens to work in the porn industry, and when the shit really hits the fan and things go haywire, his performance is focused and sharp, even when portraying utter, unbridled madness. To put it in context, a remake starring Nicolas Cage would probably go down in history as a comedic masterpiece rather than the emotional tour-de-force presented here.
Themes of the profitability of victimisation and the endless, unstoppable economic and political rape of populations are hammered home relentlessly (especially well by Trifunovic in his energetic and passionate portrayal of Vukmir), while the wonderfully fitting soundtrack – flitting between pulsing ambience and hammering synthesised and industrial styles – serves as a beating to the senses. When the final act kicks off, A Serbian Film takes the audience into the ring for a vicious slamming… and it won’t stop when you’re down. The final shot serves as that excessive finishing kick to the head, an attack that just will not cease.
You see, A Serbian Film is a ruthless work composed of unbridled rage. The imagery, coupled with the throbbing, pounding and pervasive soundtrack, wants to pummel you into submission, to stamp on your downed gut and see you pulled in and degraded just as much as the protagonists. Nobody, no matter their creed, sex or age, is safe from this dehumanisation and ruin – and that’s what makes it so powerful. In cutting as much as they have, the BBFC have succeeded in making the world of A Serbian Film, and its reflection of ours, distinctly less scarring and pitiless.
Throughout the work, almost every single one of the most unsettling, shocking, gasp-inducing and horrifying images has been excised – in turn leaving some violent scenes feeling noticeably truncated. Much of the sheer anguish and horror promoted by the original version is subdued, perhaps even, unforgivably, played down due to the edits. Most of the cuts came under the censors’ rule of disallowing “images of sexual and sexualised violence which have a tendency to eroticise or endorse the behaviour.” Considering not a single one of the excised shots in this film does so (in fact, they serve to heighten the repulsion of the acts witnessed), this doesn’t work as a fitting explanation.
When the credits begin to roll, this new version of A Serbian Film doesn’t so much spit you out as simply release you. Considering the train of controversy surrounding it, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume that many of the cinematically uninitiated in the UK will pick this version up and simply wonder what all the fuss was about. In fact, a relative who generally shuns all horror, and would most likely have been rocking in the corner having seen the uncut version, viewed this edit before I did. Their response: “I’ve never seen a film like it, but it was very good… a very strong story.”
Even in this new release, A Serbian Film remains a worthy watch, but there’s no denying that its claws have been irreparably snipped. It remains an impressively constructed and well made film, but the final effect is much diminished. While the original cut would get 4 1/2 knives from yours truly, this edit gets the score you see below.
Revolver Entertainment’s DVD of A Serbian Film is very well presented. Visuals are crisp and solid, and the 5.1 audio is nicely balanced yet powerful, leaving the soundtrack standing out exceptionally well. A few careless spelling mistakes can be found within the English subtitles (including the amusingly Freudian “concockted”).
On the special features side of the fence, we get a UK-exclusive introduction to the film by director Spasojevic. This is a nice addition, and not without humour as he states that he will now look slightly off to the right of camera to make it look as though he’s being interviewed and add authenticity to his statements. Next up is “A Filmmaker’s Insight”. This is a recording of a screening Q&A moderated by Frightfest’s Alan Jones. Running around 10 minutes, it’s nothing exceptionally noteworthy if you have been following the interview circuit for the movie already.
Finally, a collector’s booklet is included which contains a Q&A transcript, filmmaker’s statement and various articles about the film, Serbian history, and the history of British censorship. It’s a good read and well worth plonking yourself down to take in. Overall, though, the extras package feels lacking – especially in terms of input from the cast. It would have been nice to hear their views and experiences from working on such an emotionally and physically challenging film.
3 1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5
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