Sunday, 2 January 2011

A Serbian Film (2010)

Ah, what better way to start 2011 than with a look at the most controversial film of 2010, Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film, due for imminent release in the UK in a version shorn of four minutes at the behest of the BBFC – an utterly pointless act in the current age of almost universal availability by fair means or foul and also a dark and depressing reminder of the board’s power and ability to decimate a director’s vision under a woefully misguided conviction of protecting our tender sensibilities from the corrupting influence of a work of fiction.

The story is a simple one – porn star Milos (Srdjan Torovovic) has retired from the sex film industry and is living with his wife and son, funded by his dwindling savings from his time in the business. He is contacted by (still-in-the-business) Laylah who indicates that “artist philosopher” Vukmir is willing to offer Milos a bumper payday that will effectively set Milos up for life for one last job. His curiosity piqued, Milos meets Vukmir who expresses that he works for selected clients, producing “naked art, truth, real people, real situations and real sex with a serious script.”

Provided with a lengthy contact that he is told he does not need to read and lacking a script in order to elicit a more honest performance Milos soon finds himself thrust (pun intended) into a series of scenarios that increasingly disturb rather than arouse. Milos’ disquiet at Vukmir’s willingness to involve his own adolescent daughter results in him seeking the assistance of his cop brother Marko. Asked to try and obtain some information about the mysterious Vukmir and his crew, Marko advises that Vukmir is a child psychologist who does not appear to have made movies previously.

Further appalled by Vukmir’s practices, Milos notifies the director that he is no longer willing to remain involved in his production. After ranting about their homeland now being “a victim” Vukmir screens some footage for Milos of a new genre of film-making. Repulsed by what he is shown, Milos leaves immediately.

Waking up at home covered in blood and with his wife and son missing, Milos returns to Vukmir’s now empty villa. Unearthing a video camera and with the assistance of a batch of recordings Milos manages to piece together the horrifying chain of events that lead to the ultimate discovery of the fate of his family, Vukmir and even his brother!

Probably the most intriguing and divisive film since Martyrs, A Serbian Film is one that demands your attention. It adheres to a simple three act formula; introduction, participation and conclusion, the final act unspooling by way of flashback sequences. It’s an extremely well made, effective and taut film (especially in its’ full version) that is likely to be lazily labelled as ‘torture porn’. The subject matter certainly pulls no punches although I would have thought that anyone watching the sanitized BBFC approved version is going to find the impact significantly diluted. If I had to level one criticism, it could be said that the film’s professionalism works a little against the film and I feel that some of the onscreen atrocities would have had greater impact if there had been some ‘shaky-cam’ footage, ala Cannibal Holocaust, Cloverfield, the torture sequences in Emanuelle in America or even the August Underground/Mordum movies.

Rob Bewick


  1. Good stuff Rob. I'm inching closer and closer to picking this one up, having been originally cold on the idea of it, and then gradually warming up to it. I'm not quite there yet though. I would have lapped this up when I was a kid but nowadays this 30-something likes his splatter served with a dose of unreality. Isn't life depressing enough without A Serbian Film ? However after reading this, I think I do want to see it finally...

  2. One could argue that the BBFC censoring the film enhanced the film's allure. If it were me, I would have used that action as a marketing tool to spread awareness about the film!