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A review to end all reviews: A Serbian Film

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Posted 10th October 2010 at 05:03 PM by truckturner

Tim Porter.

Back in the early days of this summer-i was eagerly counting down the days till Christmas. Well, so to speak not the celebration of the birth of Jesus, or the white bearded man Saint Nick. (Who to be honest as time as progressed freaks me out. The idea of a man breaking into your house-in the night whilst pleasing your children with toys is just creepy.) No, my definition of Christmas is attending the best place in the world: Frightfest- The UKís premier horror film festival. When taking an initial look at the schedule this year, to be frank I was extremely disappointed. Out of the thirty-six choices on offer; only two literally jumped off the page. These were: the remake of the classic so-called video nasty: I Spit On Your Grave, & the second was a film from Serbia simply called: A Serbian Film.

The film was described in the listings as: The most controversial hot button movie of the year. I was instantly intrigued. Iím a massive fan of extreme cinema. Films such as Pascal Laugierís Martyrs, Ruggero Deodatoís Cannibal Holocaust, Gregory Wilsonís The Girl Next Door and Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustilloís Inside are just some to name a few which have: tested my boundaries, deeply affected me in some way; and most importantly have stayed with me throughout my life. One of the more important factors into my taste for this style of cinema is simply: There are no boundaries. No subject is taboo! These filmmakers do not care about audience expectations or tastes, most of these films are made to address subject matterís that are left to rot by the media (in my opinion).

As we now live in a culture that is dominated by the internet, all you have to do is type in itís title to have a list of all the atrocities that feature in the film. With regret now, when researching I was initially considering whether I should attempt to watch this film. At least one of the atrocities I read about make me question: Whether a movie can go too far? As the time shorten to the beginning of Frightfest, I was tense and extremely nervous. That summer I had suffered a string of extreme panic attacks-which since then I have been officially diagnosed with panic disorder. With the prospects of seeing what critics, horror fans and other film cinephiles described as: vile, going too far and to the ultimate comment: an experience they never want to watch again! Itís understandable why I was worried and excited all at the same time.

Then the news broke! Just as I was getting ready for the opening night premiere of Hatchet 2, the forums flooded with a news flash. The BBFC had decided to butcher A Serbian Film with seventy-three cuts. These totaled to a staggering four minutes in length. The movie was instantly pulled from the event. The BBFC also cut the remake of I Spit On Your Grave by forty-seconds. So as you can expect I was deeply disappointed by these developments. I was equally angry as they had left it so long before making a decision. It felt like it had all been pre-planned in advance to prove a point. You would not get this kind of treatment happen at The Tate Modern or The London Film Festival. What most troubled me was, the festival has a age-restriction. A specific audience are paying to be scared, shocked and tested. Why would you censor the target audience of these films from what they want to see?
When arriving at the festival, the mood was mixed about the decisions. Some people like me was appalled by the rise of the censorís hand, but others were pleased due to the content in A Serbian Film; which from what they told me was too much for them to bear. Day three of the festival rolled along and I was incredibly disappointed with it. The atmosphere was dead! There was no longer any buzz or anticipation-as the key festival screenings had been both cut. For a horror fan, this is like requesting a sandwich then finding out they have removed the filling.

Strangely a majority of the audience had seen it. Leaked screener copies had been made available online to be distributed freely and most importantly uncut! The responses were for the majority favorable. So the festival had finished, but the controversy was still ever present. The tabloid newspapers had started moral panic again, however the sad fact was; a much more liberal film censorship board has made one of the worst decisions in their history.

I decided to track down an uncut version of the film. Within ten minutes I had accessed it and awaited the film to fully buffer. I do not condone my actions or internet piracy-however this film is a work of pure fiction. There are no sequences of real violence, real sex (with children or adults) so to be honest I felt there was no reason for the film to be censored. Itís understandable if any of the more extreme content of the film was sparingly real or exploitive, then the filmís controversy and censorship would have been a right decision to make. After seeing the film, I have to disagree with all the problems the film has received. This film is not only my favorite of the year-but also has a very powerful message that needs to be addressed. This is the power of good filmmaking. So what exactly is the film about?

The plot of A Serbian Film is not that complex. Milos is a retired porn star. He spends most of his dayís longing for a better life for him and his family. He occasionally gets opportunities for low budget porn movies, but these do not pay well and he is struggling to survive. A co-star contacts him about a new artistic pornographic project-which is offering an obscene amount of money for a three day shoot. The only catch is, the director Vukmir states that he cannot know what the film is about. After his reservations, Milos ultimately agrees to participate. Little does he know what he is getting himself into. Slowly he realiseís the shocking truth behind the production, a hellish series of events ensue.

First off, I would like to applaud the intentions of the filmmaker Srdan Spasojevic. A film such as this is a product of someone experiencing total anarchy, alienation and physical, psychological torment from the hands of their dictator. A Serbian Film is truly an experience your never forget. From the magnificent cinematography-which makes each shot look like something from an art gallery; to the amazing acting talent on display and of course the relentless of the political ideas it provokes. There is no denying it is not for everyone. The content in the film is shocking. It is meant to be represented in this manner. It never borders on titillation, it also comes across as horrific. Itís not morally bankrupt or corrupting. Itís probably the most moral piece of filmmaking in history.

Iíve now seen the movie twice. I was accepted on the guest list-for a special private screening at The Raindance Film Festival on Friday evening. I was selected from hundreds as I defended the movie on my podcast. I still find this a very elitist idea. How is it that a critic, a filmmaker or a student will not be corrupted by the film whilst; itís unsuitable for film literate fans or the general movie going public? There is no denying the sheer disturbing power of this movie, but if the film is presented in a butchered version it will distort the messages it provokes and just turn it into another run of the mill horror film.
Each disturbing sequence is an allegory. It is about a hierarchy system. Where the rich and powerful can stamp all over the working class and destroy their lives. It is about being born into a dystopic society, losing all innocence and being plunged into a living hell. All of these points are just some to say a few on how powerful this movie is. Strangely enough at Raindance, I found the way they presented the evening more disturbing then the screening. When I walked in the Apollo Piccadilly I was ID checked twice. Other people who brought friends were rejected, due to the likely hood of prosecution from the police going against the definition of a private screening. Then they offered me a sick bag! A sick bag.

This is totally offensive trying to describe this film as a splatter movie! Then the thing that really sent my blood soaring was an optional donation pot for abused children. This was a sick joke on the festivalís part that is more problematic and disturbing then any of the content in the film. To class this movie as a joke is highly offensive. A representative at Raindance states: Westminster wanted the screening to proceed on order to minimise publicity but were concerned that: Ďjolly seekersí would be given access hence the stringent criteria. If a newspaper like The Daily Mail got pictures or inside information like this, this would add fuel to the debate about this movie. They could argue that the film deserves itís notoriety and that we are indeed sick people to watch this material. However thank you for allowing me to see it in the cinema, I'll never forget the experience as long as I live.

So sadly the BBFC have outcast this movie. Turning it from an obscure art-house horror movie into a modern day Video Nasty. Censorship is invalid now. In our todayís society you can buy most of the banned video nasties in HMV uncut! The filmís that are still banned can be easily bought from around the world. They are available on various website by a simple click on the left mouse button. In the case of the future, the internet is a haven for unregulated material from real death, controversial sex acts and really strange videos such as 2 Girls 1 Finger or Glass Ass. Itís ridiculous to cut A Serbian Film. A movie that provokes really disturbing ideas but never fully presents them. The filmmaker leaves your mind to create what your not seeing-which is more disturbing than whatís on screen.

So I urge you if you can, to await the uncut DVD release which is out next year. Do not be put of by the press or the controversy that surrounds it, give it a try then make your argument!
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