Directed by: Srdjan Spasojevic
Premise: A porn performer (Srdan Todorovic) is lured out of retirement by a charismatic filmmaker (Sergej Trifunovic) promising an artistic adult film production. As shooting gets underway circumstances take a violent turn.
What Works: A Serbian Film was the apotheosis of the so-called torture porn trend of the 2000s. The filmmakers take that term literally and apply it in a way that picks up on trends in both mainstream and marginal media from that period and then exaggerates it, taking the concept to its logical conclusion. A Serbian Film plays as a companion piece to earlier examples of extreme cinema, namely Cannibal Holocaust and Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. Like those films, the violence is not an end it itself and the filmmakers critique entertainment but also the culture that produces it and what the former reveals about the latter. A Serbian Film is a rather on-the-nose portrait of what’s been called “porn culture” which is to say the mainstreaming of pornography and how the values and images of that genre bleed into everyday life. Vukmir, the eccentric filmmaker heading the project, has pretentions to artistry and the film-within-the-film literalizes part of the allure of extreme cinema. Art is about the search for truth and some expressions of body horror look for the ultimate reality of our biological existence. A Serbian Film is about the horror of being a tool of that search in a way that turns us into an object. At one point in the production, Milos is coerced into participating in horrific acts and loses his volition. Throughout A Serbian Film, Milos witnesses himself on video and the movie dramatizes the alienation and dissonance that may happen in a cinematic culture.
What Doesn’t: According to filmmaker Srdjan Spasojevic, A Serbian Film is a commentary on life and politics and art in Serbia in the aftermath of the wars and political violence in that region during the 1990s and early 2000s. If that’s the case, it’s not very evident to an outside viewer. It may be that this interpretation requires an understanding of Serbian history and culture. The premise of A Serbian Film gets wobbly in the film’s last third. The story loses its sense of direction for awhile and spins its narrative wheels. Certain details from this part of the movie don’t make sense. Milos realizes what’s happened to him by viewing a video recording but it’s inconceivable that some of these scenes would be shot by the in-film moviemakers. There’s also a matter of style and execution. Unlike Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom which keeps a dispassionate distance from the action, A Serbian Film uses contemporary filmmaking techniques designed to stimulate the viewer such as quick edits and unusual angles. These techniques compromise a film that is ostensibly critiquing pornography and exploitative cinema.
Disc extras: The Unearthed Films release of A Serbian Film incudes featurettes, interviews, commentary tracks, an image gallery, and trailers.
Bottom Line: A Serbian Film is an extreme work of cinema that cannot be recommended for general viewers. It’s a compromised film that’s a bit scattershot in its aim but as excessive and unpleasant as it may be there is also an intelligence behind A Serbian Film that makes this an interesting film of its era and the definitive title in the torture cycle of the early 2000s.
Episode: #967 (October 1, 2023)