A Serbian Film

A Serbian Film (Serbian: Српски филм / Srpski film) is a 2010 Serbian exploitation horror film produced and directed by Srđan Spasojević in his feature film debut. Spasojević also co-wrote the film with Aleksandar Radivojević.[4] It tells the story of a financially struggling porn star who agrees to participate in an "art film", only to discover that he has been drafted into a snuff film with pedophilic and necrophilic themes. The film stars Serbian actors Srđan Todorović and Sergej Trifunović.

Upon its debut on the art film circuit, the film received substantial attention and controversy for its graphic nature. The film has been banned in Spain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Norway, and was temporarily banned from screening in Brazil.

Miloš is a semi-retired porn star and lives with his wife Marija and six-year-old son, Petar. His brother Marko is a corrupt police officer who envies Miloš' life and is attracted to Marija. Marija is curious about her husband's past and is concerned about the family's income. Lejla, a former co-star, offers Milos a starring role in an art film directed by Vukmir, an independent pornographer who wishes to cast Miloš for his powerful erection. Having already caught Petar watching one of his films and not informed on the details of Vukmir's film, Miloš is hesitant to participate and continue his career, but accepts to secure his family's financial future. While meeting Vukmir, Miloš passes a bald man and his entourage, regarding them warily.

Shooting begins at an orphanage, where Vukmir feeds Miloš instructions through an earpiece given by Vukmir's driver Raša, while a film crew follows him. Miloš sees a young woman named Jeca, who is being scolded by her mother for disgracing her deceased war hero husband's memory by becoming a prostitute. In a dark room, screens show Jeca seductively eating an ice pop while Miloš is fellated by a nurse. Then, Miloš is instructed to receive it from the mother, while Jeca watches. Miloš refuses, but is forced to continue. Marko later informs him that Vukmir is a former psychologist and has worked in children's TV and state security. Vukmir meets a hesitant Miloš afterward to explain his artistic style, showing a film of a woman giving birth to a newborn which is immediately raped by Raša, in what the director terms "newborn porn." Miloš storms out and drives away. At a road junction, he is approached and seduced by Vukmir's female doctor.

A bloodied Miloš wakes up in his bed some time later with no memory of what has happened. He returns to the now abandoned set and finds a number of tapes. Viewing them, Miloš discovers that he was drugged to induce an aggressive, sexually aroused and suggestible state. At Vukmir's manipulative direction, Miloš beats and rapes Jeca's mother before decapitating her to induce rigor mortis and later, a catatonic Miloš is sodomized by Vukmir's security. He then watches footage of Lejla voicing concern for Miloš, only to be restrained as her teeth are removed. A masked man then enters the room and forces his penis down her throat to kill her by suffocation. The footage continues as Miloš is led to Jeca's home where an elderly woman praises him for killing her mother and offers Jeca as a "virgin commune." Miloš refuses and escapes through a window to an alleyway, where he watches a girl pass by. He begins masturbating and is assaulted by a group of thugs before they are killed by Raša, who then takes Miloš back to a warehouse with Vukmir.

At the warehouse, Vukmir's doctor administers more drugs after which Milos overpowers her, sticking the syringe into her throat. He is then taken into a room to have intercourse with two hidden bodies under a sheet. Miloš is guided onto one body and the masked man from Lejla's movie enters and begins raping the other. Miloš doesn't notice that his victim is bleeding profusely from the rectum. Vukmir then reveals the masked man to be Marko, his victim to be Marija and finally, that Miloš is raping Petar, his own son. An enraged Miloš lunges at Vukmir and smashes his head against the floor, initiating a brawl during which Marija bludgeons Marko to death with a sculpture. Miloš wrestles a gun from a guard and shoots all but the one-eyed Raša, whom he kills by shoving his erect penis into his empty eye socket. A dying Vukmir praises Miloš' actions as truly worthy of film.

Miloš, having recalled his actions, including locking his wife and son in their basement before passing out earlier, returns home to find them. He and his wife come to a mutual understanding that he, his wife, and his child, should die together, so the three gather in bed and embrace before Milos fires a fatal shot through himself, Petar, and Marija. Sometime later a new film crew, including the bald man from earlier, enters the bedroom. He unzips his fly, as the director advises him to "start with the little one."

Spasojević and Radivojević have stated that the film is a parody of modern politically correct films made in Serbia, which are financially supported by foreign funds. When asked why they chose the title 'Srpski Film' for the film's name, Radivojević answered, "We have become synonyms for chaos and lunacy. The title is a cynical reference to that image. Srpski Film is also a metaphor for our national cinema — boring, predictable and altogether unintentionally hilarious which throughout our film to some extent is commented on and subtly parodied." Similarly, Radivojević describes Serbian cinema as "...pathetic state financed films made by people who have no sense or connection to film, but are strongly supported by foreign funds. Quality of the film is not their concern, only the bureaucratic upholding of the rule book on political correctness."[5]

According to Spasojević, the character of Vukmir is "an exaggerated representation of the new European film order ... In Eastern Europe, you cannot get your film financed unless you have a barefoot girl who cries on the streets, or some story about war victims in our region ... the Western world has lost feelings, so they're searching for false ones, they want to buy feelings."[6]

In another interview Spasojević is quoted as saying the film "denounces the fascism of political correctness." Questioned by the Croatian media on whether the violence depicted deals with crimes committed by Serbian soldiers during the Yugoslav Wars, Spasojević answered, "'Srpski Film' does not touch upon war themes, but in a metaphorical way deals with the consequences of postwar society and a man that is exploited to the extreme in the name of securing the survival of his family."[7]

The first ever showing of A Serbian Film took place on 15 March 2010 at midnight in Austin as part of the 2010 South by Southwest.[8] During the introduction by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema's owner Tim League, the audience in the theater was once again warned about the extreme nature of the scenes they were about to see and given one last chance to leave the screening.[9] He also coaxed a handful of audience members to join him on the stage — where they jointly snorted lines of salt, squeezed lime juice into their eyes and took shots of tequila in order to "understand what Serbians have been through to create a culture of A Serbian Film".[10]

The film was run on 16–19 July 2010 during the Fantasia Festival[11] in Montreal as part of the Subversive Serbia program.[12]

The film was due to screen on 29 August 2010 at the Film Four FrightFest in London, UK but was pulled by the organizers following the intervention of Westminster Council. Films shown at this festival are usually shown pre-certificate but in this case Westminster Council refused to grant permission for its exhibition until it had been classified by the BBFC. Following its DVD submission to the BBFC (there were no theatrical materials available in the time frame requested for a proper theatrical classification), 49 cuts totaling four minutes and eleven seconds were requested for DVD certification. The UK distributor, Revolver Entertainment, initially looked into the possibilities of the process, but it became clear that the film would then have to be resubmitted to the BBFC and further cuts may then have been required. It was decided that to show a heavily edited version was not in the spirit of the festival and consequently its exhibition was pulled from the schedule. The film was replaced at the festival by Rodrigo Cortés' Buried starring Ryan Reynolds.[13]

The Raindance Film Festival, that picked up the film at the Cannes Film Festival in May, subsequently held the UK premiere and "found a way around the ban by billing the screening as a 'private event'".[14] Westminster Council requested to monitor the invitations to the screening. The 35mm print was shipped from the BBFC for the 8 October 2010 premiere.[15]

On 21 October 2010, the film had a single screening at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. It took place as part of the monthly event called Cinemacabre Movie Nights organized by the Rue Morgue magazine. The publication also spotlighted the film and featured it on its cover.[16][17]

On 26 November 2010, the film was refused classification by the Australian Classification Board, banning sales and public showings of the film in Australia. However, on 5 April 2011, the Australian Classification Board approved a censored version of the film.[18]

On 12 and 16 July 2011, the film was screened at FANTASPOA in Porto Alegre, Brazil and at least at one other film festival in the country, before being banned just before a screening in Rio de Janeiro. Initially the ban applied only in Rio, but afterwards the decision became valid throughout the country, pending further judgement of the film.[19]

The film had a limited release in UK theaters on 10 December 2010 in the edited form (99 minutes), with four minutes and eleven seconds of its original content removed by the British Board of Film Classification due to "elements of sexual violence that tend to eroticize or endorse sexual violence."[20] A Serbian Film thus became the most censored cinema release in Britain since the 1994 Indian film Nammavar that had five minutes and eight seconds of its violent content removed.[21]

The film had a limited release in the United States on 6 May 2011, edited to 98 minutes with an NC-17 rating. It was released on VOD at the website FlixFling on the same day, except only slightly edited to 103 minutes.[22]

Through Invincible Pictures, a limited edition uncut version was released via DVD on 22 May 2012. Tom Ashley, CEO of the distribution company, had this to say, "Of course we would have preferred an uncut release last year. Unfortunately, the charges brought against Mr. Sala [director of the Sitges Film Festival] were something we had to seriously factor into that release. Now that those charges have been dropped, we can bring A Serbian Film to its fans as its director had intended."[23]

In September 2011, without any official explanation, Netflix removed the film from their list of titles available for viewing, and from their in-site search results.[24]

A Serbian Film was banned by a court in San Sebastián, Spain for "threatening sexual freedom" and thus could not be shown in the XXI Semana de Cine Fantástico y de Terror (21st Horror and Fantasy Film Festival).[25] The film was shown at an adults-only screening at the Spanish Sitges Film Festival during October 2010. As a result, the festival's director Ángel Sala was charged with exhibiting child pornography by the Spanish prosecutor who decided to take action in May 2011 after receiving a complaint from a Roman Catholic organization over a pair of scenes involving the rapes of a young child and a newborn.[26] The charges were later dropped.[27]

The film was temporarily banned for screening in Brazil. Although the film was given a "not recommended for those under the age of 18, due to depictions of sex, pedophilia, violence and cruelty" rating by the Dejus, a legal decision banned it temporarily due to its content "offending the government of Brazil".[28] This was the first time a film was banned in Brazil since the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution. On 5 July 2012, this decision was overturned.[29][30]

Before its release, major Australian DVD retailer JB Hi-Fi announced that they would not be distributing the film, either online or in physical stores. They attributed this to the "Disturbing content of the film" and to a disagreement with the (then) R18+ rating.[31] However, the film was available from this retailer for a time.[32]

It was refused classification and thus effectively banned in South Australia just days before its release date.[33]

On 19 September 2011, the Australian Classification Review Board also rated the film "Refused Classification", effectively banning the film from distribution Australia-wide. According to the Review Board, "A Serbian Film could not be accommodated within the R18+ classification as the level of depictions of sexual violence, themes of incest, and depictions of child sexual abuse in the film has an impact which is very high and not justified by context."[34]

The film was given a Limited screening price or restricted rating twice by the KMRB. The first edit was submitted on 9 August 2011 with a duration of 94 minutes but was rejected for having extreme violence.[36] The second edit was trimmed to 88 minutes and labelled as the director's edition, was submitted on 6 October 2011, but was also given the same restricted rating, this time for extreme themes.[37]

The film was released to great controversy over its portrayal of sexual violence. Spasojević has responded to the controversy with "This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government ... It's about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don't want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it's about."[38]

While acknowledging some level of conservatism among the public and theater owners, Spasojević says that government-enforced censorship in Serbia is non-existent and was not the driving force behind the making of A Serbian Film: "In Serbia we don't have ratings, there is no law forbidding anything from being shown in a film and there is no law forbidding anyone from buying a ticket."[6]

Blic's Milan Vlajčić gave a middle-of-the-road review, praising the direction, technical aspects, "effective iconography", and "video game pacing" while saying that the film was taken to the edges of self-parody.[39]

Đorđe Bajić and Zoran Janković of the web magazine Popboks gave the film a highly affirmative review, summing it up as "the dark Grand Guignol that shreds its celluloid victims with unconcealed intensity while showing in full color and detail, the collapse of the last bastions of decency, morality, and rationality" and concluding that "it has a lot to say outside of the mere and unrestrained exploitation".[40]

In an interview, Serbian actor and film director Dragan Bjelogrlić criticized the film: "Shallow and plain wrong – sum up my feelings about this movie. I have a problem with A Serbian Film. Its director in particular. I've got a serious problem with the boy whose father got wealthy during the '90s – nothing against making money, but I know how money was made [in Serbia] during the '90s – and then pays for his son's education abroad and eventually the kid comes back to Serbia to film his view of the country using his dad's money and even calls the whole thing A Serbian Film. To me that's a metaphor for something unacceptable. The second generation comes back to the country and using the money that was robbed from the people of Serbia, smears the very same people by portraying them as the worst scum of the earth. You know, when the first generation of the Rockefellers finished robbing America, the second one built museums, galleries, charitable organizations, and financed America. But in Serbia we're seeing every segment of society continually being taken apart and for me this movie is a paradigm of that. I've never met this kid and I really don't want to since that meeting wouldn't be pleasant at all."[41][42]

Based on 31 reviews collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 45% of critics gave A Serbian Film a positive review, with an average rating of 5.03/10. The site's consensus reads: "A pointless shocker and societal allegory, a film whose imagery is so gruesome as to leave you scarred for life... or rolling your eyes for 100 minutes."[43]

A. O. Scott of the New York Times wrote in his review, "At first glance—and few are likely to dare a second—it belongs in the high-concept shock-horror tradition whose most recent and notorious specimen is probably The Human Centipede. As is often the case with movies like this, A Serbian Film revels in its sheer inventive awfulness and dares the viewer to find a more serious layer of meaning."[44]

Karina Longworth of the Village Voice called the film "a passionate argument against a no-holds-barred exploration of extreme human sexuality and violence" and referred to the film's supposed commentary on the sad state of post-Milošević Serbian society as "specious lip service". She concludes: "That this film exists at all is a more cogent commentary on the nation's collective trauma than any of the direct statements or potential metaphors contained within."[45]

Scott Weinberg wrote "I think the film is tragic, sickening, disturbing, twisted, absurd, infuriated, and actually quite intelligent. There are those who will be unable (or unwilling) to decipher even the most basic of 'messages' buried within A Serbian Film, but I believe it's one of the most legitimately fascinating films I've ever seen. I admire and detest it at the same time. And I will never watch it again. Ever."[46]

Alison Willmore wrote that "Movies can use transgressive topics and imagery toward great artistic resonance. They can also just use them for pure shock/novelty/boundary-pushing, which is where I'd group Serbian Film. That it comes from a country that's spent decades deep in violent conflict, civil unrest, corruption and ethnic tensions makes it tempting to read more into the film than I think it actually offers—ultimately, it has as much to say about its country of origin as [Eli Roth's] Hostel does about America, which is a little, but nothing on the scale its title suggests."[47]

Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles lists it in his Top 10 films of 2010, stating "This is a fantastic, brilliant film – that given time, will eventually outgrow the absurd reactions of people that think it is a far harder film than it actually is."[48]

Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf accuses A Serbian Film of pandering to "mouth-breathing gorehounds who found Hostel a bit too soft (i.e., fanatics who would hijack the horror genre into extremity because deeper thinking is too hard)" before concluding that "the movie says as much about Eastern Europe as Twilight does about the Pacific Northwest".[49]

Tim Anderson of horror review site Bloody Disgusting strongly discouraged anyone from ever viewing the film, writing, "If what I have written here is enough to turn your feelings of wonder into a burning desire to watch this monstrosity, then perhaps I haven't been clear enough. You don't want to see Serbian Film. You just think you do."[50]

In his very negative review of A Serbian Film, BBC Radio 5 Live's Mark Kermode called it a "nasty piece of exploitation trash in the mould of Jörg Buttgereit and Ruggero Deodato", going on to add that "if it is somehow an allegory of Serbian family and Serbian politics then the allegory gets lost amidst the increasingly stupid splatter".[51] Furthermore, he mentioned A Serbian Film again in his review of Fred: The Movie, pairing the two as his least favourite viewing experiences of the year.[52]

Calum Waddell of Total Sci-Fi in a negative review took issue with the filmmakers' statements that their film says something about the politics of Serbia, writing, "if you want to learn about Serbia, chances are, you won't be watching a movie whose main claim to fame is that a man rapes a newborn baby", before concluding that "Srđan Spasojević will go to his grave being known as the guy who filmed a grown man having sex with a baby. And that's something that – despite all of the money, attention and champagne parties at Cannes – I would never want on my conscience. Good luck to him in regaining some humanity."[53]

Total Film awarded the film two stars out of five, finding the film's shock hype not to be fully deserved: "a film that was slightly silly and none-too-distressing to begin with. Works best as a reflection on modern day porn's obsession with masochism and humiliation."[54]

A Serbian Film has been discussed in a number of academic film studies journals from different perspectives. Mark Featherstone[55] and Shaun Kimber [56] analyse the film within its national and historical context and through examining its production history. Alexandra Kapka analyses the film in the context of its popularity on streaming and piracy web sites, arguing that the loss of the director's introduction on the retail DVD, in which Spasojevich states A Serbian Film is a political allegory, means that the film loses much of its intended meaning.[57] Large-scale, international audience research by Martin Ian Smith examines how ordinary viewers of the film discuss negative experiences with it and talks about how many viewers, contrary to academic interpretations of the film, often have no knowledge of the film's historical context. The study also investigates how audiences judged the censorship debate surrounding the film, with those most in favor of its censorship being those who saw no value in the film.[58]