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  • Benjamin May

A Serbian Film (2010) Review

In the pantheon of disturbing cinema, Srđan Spasojević’s ‘A Serbian Film’ stands as a grotesque outlier, a film that doesn’t just cross the line- it revels in its transgression. While movies like Takashi Miike’s darkly comic ‘Visitor Q’, along with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cerebral ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom,’ demonstrate that filmmakers can weave unsettling narratives with compelling messages, ‘A Serbian Film’ lacks such depth.

The term ‘torture porn,’ coined in the wake of the ‘Saw’ franchise, aptly describes horror films that are obsessed with the fragility of the human form, dramatizing its destruction with a perverse glee. Often, these films fail to transcend their bloodlust, embodying Thomas Hobbes’ description of life as “nasty, brutish and short.” Spasojević’s contribution to the genre, however, is anything but brief. It’s an interminable descent into depravity, following beleaguered pornstar Milos as he navigates the murky waters of an ‘artistic’ endeavour that quickly devolves into a nightmare.

Spasojević, alongside co-writer Aleksandar Radivojevic, crafts a narrative that is as disheartening as it is monotonous- a relentless barrage of sadism without a shred of originality or wit. The film’s attempts to parallel the worst of Eli Roth’s ‘Hostel’ fall flat, rendering even Roth’s most harrowing scenes as innocuous as a Disney flick by comparison. Despite lofty claims of satirizing political correctness and critiquing colonialism, the film’s execution is as shallow as a rain-slicked street; its purported themes lost in a mire of senseless brutality.

From the stilted dialogue to the clichéd character arcs, there’s a distinct lack of innovation or merit in the screenplay. ‘A Serbian Film’ is not a clever parody nor a poignant critique; it is a cinematic aberration leaving viewers questioning not the nature of political correctness or colonialism, but the motives behind its creation. It’s a film that, from its grim inception to its merciful conclusion, offers no redemption, no insight- only the bleak reminder of cinema’s potential for darkness.

With its unoriginality and repetitive scenes of violence, it is reminiscent of John Erick Dowdle’s ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes,’ though is a much more polished effort, technically. Nemanja Jovanov’s cinematography is audaciously striking, capturing the macabre with an unsettling clarity that almost dares you to look away. Sky Wikluh’s electronic score is a relentless undercurrent, amplifying the tension to almost unbearable levels, while editor Darko Simic’s rapid cuts ensure the viewer’s descent into the film’s abyss is swiftly relentless. Moreover, the special effects and make-up achieve a disquieting realism, blurring the line between fiction and the viewer’s threshold for horror.

Yet, this technical artistry serves only as a bitter reminder of the film’s wasted potential, becoming a mere backdrop to the narrative’s relentless brutality. As the credits roll, one is left not with an appreciation for the film’s technical achievements, but with an overwhelming sense of exhaustion- a testament to the film’s ability to provoke a visceral response, but also to its failure to channel its technical merits into a narrative worthy of them.

Furthermore, the cast, despite their commendable performances, are simply pawns in a game that overshadows their talents. Srdjan ‘Zika’ Todorovic, in a role that demands everything and offers nothing, delivers a heartbreakingly raw performance as Milos, capturing the essence of a man dragged through the inferno of human depravity. Opposite him, Sergej Trifunovic, as Milos's employer Vukmir, is chillingly effective, infusing the character with a subtle menace that lingers long after the screen cuts to black.

In addition, Jelena Gavrilovic and Slobodan Bestic, as Marija and Marko, Milos’s wife and brother, respectfully, give strong performances that resonate with authenticity and emotional depth. Yet, the question looms large: to what end? The film’s relentless onslaught of brutality leaves little room to appreciate the efforts of the cast, showing that even the most potent performances can be rendered moot by a narrative devoid of purpose, wit or insight.

A voyeuristic foray into the depths of exploitative cinema, Srđan Spasojević’s ‘A Serbian Film’ stands as a Grand Guignol spectacle of the most witless kind. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an unrelenting tooth extraction without the mercy of anaesthesia- thoroughly gruelling to endure. While it may boast technical proficiency and strong performances, these are but a veneer over a hollow core devoid of meaningful commentary.

It is a film that leaves behind a legacy not of insightful artistry, but of controversy for controversy’s sake- a cautionary tale of how a narrative, no matter how polished its exterior, can falter without substance to anchor it. ‘A Serbian Film’ stands as a stark reminder that the power of cinema to disturb is profound, but without purpose or restraint, it risks becoming an empty spectacle; full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.


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