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A Serbian Film - Pointless trash or pointed critique?

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Posted 27th October 2010 at 02:13 PM by Sam@Cult Labs
Updated 24th November 2010 at 10:29 AM by Sam@Cult Labs


Don't read unless you've seen the film or aren't bothered about major plot reveals.





When the Hollywood mainstream can turn the multiplexes into a mire of torture porn and Saw-style sadism and you can go and sit with an audience and see remakes of films that used to be beyond taste, such as Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave, where does a filmmaker go to to make a movie that feels genuinely dangerous?

For the filmmakers behind A Serbian Film, the answer is to dive headlong into the very worst of human depravity with the clear intention of rubbing the audiences face in their grubby, secret habits.

The movie introduces us to a semi-retired porn star with an ambigious relationship to his past. Now a family man with a loving wife and a little boy to care for, he occasionally slips back into his former world when a bill needs paying and a small part of him still seeks the thrill of making porn, but. for the most of the time, he's happy to be domestic and burn the more odious memories away with Jack Daniels.

But when a trusted friend and fellow performer informs him of a job in an art-porn epic made by a secretive group, his greed gets the better of him and he signs up for a project in which he knows nothing in advance.

Of course, the evil film crews intention, through drugs, kidnap and cohersion, is too push him to the fatal limits of sexual excess. Doped to the eyeballs on Bull Viagra, he ****s and beheads chained victims and, in the climatic and more troubling scene, rapes his own son in a hallicinatory daze.

After a bloody revenge has been enatched on the sick minded camera crew who pushed him to such extreme acts, the family commit suicide in a downbeat ending that still finds time for one more twisted gag before the titles role.

So, why are film illiterate busy bodies so concerned about A Serbian Film?

Taken out of context, there are scenes in the movie that will test a viewers tolerance to the limits. One already infamous sequence features a brutish man delivering a baby in a dirty, derelict room with boarded up windows. After the child is born, he rapes it, creating a new, harrowing genre of filth called Newborn Porn. I was upset, you'll be upset... Bournemouth Council were very upset.

But will critics point out to readers that this sequence is a film within the film? Or that the protagonist is shown in cutaways reacting with horror and revulsion at the murderous act he is witnessing? I doubt it. The problem with pushing cinematic art to such worrying degrees is that the message can be lost.

Former Soviet countries are a hotbed for the worst kinds of exploitative pornography in an industry that is constantly trying to brutalize it's audience to keep jaded peckers up. Easy access to porn means that it has to reach new heights of shock or invent new styles of sex in order to fulfill a viewing public whose appetite and libido will wane without new thrills.

When we think of the first explosion of mainstream porn in the 70s, images of furry centrefolds, bad plotting and moderate kinkiness come to mind. Smut may been have exploitative, but it was also a liberating influence and helped the western world to free up their hang-ups about sex and sexuality. The same cannot be said for the kind of sadistic, misogynistic gonzo footage that's routinely available with a few mouse clicks.

Put it this way. If, after a few years of regular net porn consumption, you need to see women gagging with black eyeliner streaming down their cheeks or a person penetrated by three men at the same time, then maybe the porn industry has had an effect on your outlook. Maybe it's time to stop separating your pornotopia from real life. When people laugh about two girl, one cup, do they think about the two girls and why they agreed to eat shit on camera in the first place or do they just get off on showing their mates in a game of gross oneupmanship?

A Serbian Film asks you some tough questions and ultimately, it's a profoundly anti-porn statement, designed to make you feel uncomfortable not only about the images you're watching there and then, but also the other dark stuff you might have seen on some obscure website.

Porn offers the illusion of fulfilment without delivering the promised moneyshot. By keeping people in an amoral, seperate world of panting, ever hungry sluts with the superhuman ability to take sexual punishment, it slowly warps attitudes to sex and gender.

A Serbian Film isn't dangerous in and off itself, unless you are so hung up that while watching the film, you're blind to the subtext and real message of the work. Anyone who wishes to see it repressed or banned seeks only to stop intelligent people from asking questions of the society they live in. Is porn, both in it's taboo crushing extreme fringes and in it's general mainstream creep, having a harsh and brutalising effect on how we relate to others? A Serbian Film tests us on this.

The Censorious would seek to quash such debate but remember, this is a mixed up world of child size thongs, pole dancing lessons, tabloid fed paedo-paranoia, cable TV porn chat and furtive online sex disconnected from real intimacy and feelings. When a film holds a mirror to an overtly sexualized society, we have to contend with seeing the gross and upsetting in that reflection. How we go on to deal with what we've seen is another question...
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  1. Old Comment
    shawnduhast's Avatar
    That spoiler Warning needs to be a lot bigger!!!
    and add "Do Not Read Until You have Seen The Film" and put any plot points in "hidden spoilers"

    A profoundly disturbing film with a very strong message that is going to be lost with all the proposed cuts of currently over 4 minutes. Uncut this film really gets under your skin in getting its valid message across with a main character out of his depth but always trying to do the right and moral thing.

    When cut this will just be another torture porn movie as it will have lost its overall message and will actually be turned into what the Sun and Daily Mail and others are claiming it is now.

    Everything about this film is very professional the photography, acting, music the points it is putting across which seem lost on some people including Horror Critics and fans is all in context in the film as Sam says above. At no point does it ever try to be "found footage" or a "snuff" movie as it is so cinematical.

    Also as Sam says once you've seen it you can't go back but then you will have a valid opinion on this film unlike all those who have not seen it and are just judging a book by it's cover and taking scenes out of context.

    Recommended Viewing but with a strong caution.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 27th October 2010 at 04:16 PM by shawnduhast shawnduhast is offline
    Updated 27th October 2010 at 04:27 PM by shawnduhast
  2. Old Comment
    ramses's Avatar
    I've not seen this film (and I can't say I'm in a hurry to watch it!) but some very good points made Sam. Excellent review.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 27th October 2010 at 07:33 PM by ramses ramses is offline
  3. Old Comment
    OK, controversial opinion alert!

    Whilst I seem to get what this film is trying to achieve, I do wonder how long we can defend such material as being "ironic" or "post-modernism".

    Where does one stop? Unlike the great era of exploitation, even though shock was often the primary function they naively always tried to push a storyline. With films like "A Serbian Film" or say the "Hostel" offerings I get the sense all they trying to say is, “look at what we can get away with”.

    Having said that, they seem to be asking some questions, and that's a good thing.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 11:05 AM by devilman devilman is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Sam@Cult Labs's Avatar
    Hostel and Saw are more like a continuation of amoral shock cinema in the Guinea Pig style. Exercises in sadism for entertainment purposes, made Hollywood slick for the multiplex.

    Torture-porn is now popular culture. Is there an argument for taking the genre format and repurposing it as a metaphor for something deeper?

    Saw is particularly worrying, as it's a globe striding franchise, spreading braindead torture for tortures sake. Hostel is a tabloid baiting snorefest which again, seeks to test the audience like an endurance race, without any meaning or reason outside the desire to gross out for extra dollars.

    Plus there's Human Centipede, seemingly produced for the kind of people who enjoy sharing their paedophile punishment fantasies on tawdry Facebook groups.

    A Serbian film doesn't have any thoughtless irony and contains levels of metaphor and meaning that simply wouldn't occur to the average gore porn director seeking to get the next headline.

    Perhaps the atrocities in Serbia have had a direct influence on the filmmakers (in fact that's a certainty). How do you comment on genocidal acts, mass rape and the post-war explosion in sick and explotative gonzo porn from former Eastern Bloc countries? In a world of free access to the worst kind of content, artists should be free to comment on the social effects of such a phenomena.

    Of course, it could be argued that you can make such points without infant rape and sexual beheadings and I'd be interested to get an unbiased opinion from someone who lived in the country during the events that influenced the movie...
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 11:39 AM by Sam@Cult Labs Sam@Cult Labs is offline
  5. Old Comment
    I found it surprisingly interesting and enjoyable, I have to admit, as I really didn't think that I was going to like it, although it perhaps may fall into the trap of reveling in what it purports to condemn, a criticism which has also been thrown at, for example, Salo. Stylistically, I could have done with less of the handheld camera shots which, far from giving tension and gravitas to the proceedings, merely make me think of MTV and advertisements. I've skimmed the plot synopsis part of this review but I thought that there was a quite touching moment near the end of the film, echoing a similar moment near the beginning, but with added poignancy. Also, speaking as someone who loathes techno, most of which strikes me as muzak for dunderheads on Ecstasy, the soundtrack wasn't as annoying as I was expecting.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 11:43 AM by tobiaswragg tobiaswragg is offline
    Updated 2nd November 2010 at 01:28 PM by tobiaswragg (clarification)
  6. Old Comment
    Sam@Cult Labs's Avatar
    Fair point about the soundtrack, if electronic music isn't your bag, I can see how it might irritate, but at least it's not peppered with bad US pop-punk and gangsta rap 'inspired' by the movie. There's nothing that annoys me more than a credit montage with some bad complaint-rock riding over the top.

    Arguments about the dunder-headed nature of electronic music can wait for another day, maybe I'll send you a mix tape that'll change your mind!

    The sensitive handling of family scenes and the way these early moments are echoed later on are one of the things that elevates the film out of the gutter and into a more interest place. It's certainly not a pointless trawl through taboos for it's own sake.

    Salo and A Serbian Film have certain parallels so it's good you pointed that out. I think some films are akin to a kind of cinematic primal scream therapy. Salo is a demostration of an artist driven by disgust to disgust his audience into being as disgusted as he is, if that makes sense. I think the problem with a lot of critics is that they will focus only on the shock (I've read some Salo reviews that seem to portray the film as one long orgy of coprophagia without subtext) and not inform the potential audience that the movie could make them think. It had that effect on me.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 11:55 AM by Sam@Cult Labs Sam@Cult Labs is offline
  7. Old Comment
    Sorry, Sam. That should have read that 'the soundtrack WASN'T as annoying as I was expecting'. I rather enjoyed the theme/end music, for example.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 12:22 PM by tobiaswragg tobiaswragg is offline
  8. Old Comment
    Sam@Cult Labs's Avatar
    I see. Well, it all worked out in the end.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 02:29 PM by Sam@Cult Labs Sam@Cult Labs is offline
  9. Old Comment
    I would say as well that the music both complements the brutality of some of the goings-on, as well as the sort of thing that seems to be used in a lot of contemporary porn, which I find interesting - music that is aggressive, thumping, repetitive (dare I say tuneless?), rather than erotic or sensual, and perhaps reinforces the idea that in the extreme porn milieu depicted (spoofed?) here, love and humanity left the building a long time ago, to be replaced by porno scenarios in which sex is almost indistinguishable from violence/snuff. Far-fetched? How about the likes of Max Hardcore or the more extreme gonzo porn? I watched a recent interview with a porn veteran who was almost lamenting the demise of the 'golden age' of porn and worrying that one of his young proteges would be injured or maybe even die as a result of excessive demands put upon them to satiate the desires of an increasingly jaded market.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 03:49 PM by tobiaswragg tobiaswragg is offline
  10. Old Comment
    Sam@Cult Labs's Avatar

    Ever notice the way that sensuality and soul has been sucked from modern R&B music?

    Old porn, at least the porno-chic end of things or the witty and liberated end of Euro-sleaze, was like a Barry White or Luther Vandross record. Modern Gonzo Porn is more like 50 Cent... Harsh, brutal and artless.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 04:54 PM by Sam@Cult Labs Sam@Cult Labs is offline
  11. Old Comment
    Sam@Cult Labs's Avatar
    Porn has an almost automated need to push boundaries due to it's abundance. When access was more limited, people would get off on a more 'normal' kind of porn.

    It's like comedy in a way. Before TV, an act could use the same material for an entire career, touring the country playing theatres. When TV became the goal, the comedian had to become more creative and develop a constrant supply of new jokes.

    Porn is like this, now you can access the entire range of human sexual expression in a couple of clicks, porn has to find new places to go to keep those who've seen everything paying money.

    Porn thus pushes performers into acts that don't seem practical or physically safe. Double penetration in every orifice isn't something you can achieve without pain or even permanent damage and I doubt it's something that any women or man would physically seek out, even if they had a fantasy about it. I despise censorship but the free for all can distort sexual horizons. This is because porn exists in a bubble of orgasms and unfettered abandon, with women who love it and can't wait to, say, blow 200 guys in one afternoon. There are no consequences, diseases or broken hearts in porn and everyone wants three way strap on love on a daily basis.

    Although watching sex acts isn't wrong or immoral, the expectations it can instill in the viewer are unrealistic. No one ever gets a hair caught in their teeth in a porn movie.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 2nd November 2010 at 05:08 PM by Sam@Cult Labs Sam@Cult Labs is offline
  12. Old Comment
    shawnduhast's Avatar
    Is this a review of the original version nobody is allowed to see in this country or the BBFC approved Revolver version being released in Dec with over 50 cuts and 4.5 mins missing?
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 13th November 2010 at 12:40 AM by shawnduhast shawnduhast is offline
    Updated 13th November 2010 at 08:34 PM by shawnduhast
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