Art that is made in our contemporary society is not necessarily pretty to look at. Long past are the days where you saw beautifully painted landscapes in famous museums. Visually pleasing art has been replaced with that which is thought-provoking and button-pushing. Does it make you question certain ideas and thoughts? I guess after we have seen the most gorgeous portrait painted in the world or the finest crafted chair constructed or the most perfect photograph ever taken, artists have to resort to new ways to invoke the interest in viewers. The same can be said for a new film that has received a lot of attention this past year. Though there have been many words written by critics to describe the visuals that you see in A Serbian Film, I am not going to start this review bombarding the film with these words. I will say this, for those unfamiliar with it but are interested in seeing one of the best horror films of the year, I encourage you to remain in the dark about the film. I promise this review will not disclose more than it should.
A Serbian Film opens with a retired porn actor named Milos. Once, Milos was the Serbian king of their porn industry. Now, he is someone that longs for the days of the past while trying to keep up with his beautiful wife and young boy. When Milos is approached by a former child psychologist who now has an interest in making an art film, Milos is initially hesitant. What is it about? “You are a porn actor, why do you care what it is about?” replies the convincing Vukmir. After an undisclosed amount of money is offered to the actor, Vukmir soon has the star of his mysterious art project.
After reading that very brief summary, I know that it is hard to imagine where this film will go. Let me reassure you. Since this is mainly a horror website, clearly there is a reason why this film is being written about. . . and I will not discuss the reason. I will say this, this film is one of the most horrific and grueling experiences you will have all year. I do not use that phrase loosely. There is a reason for why the film has received backlash from film festival attendees as well as censorship in many countries. The hypnotic mix of composer Sky Wikluh’s droning techno music set against the gritty and dirty images in this film is hard to shake after watching. Given the amount of horrific imagery that is present in this film, I still can’t imagine what the film would be like if it was edited down. The reason for this is that the imagery is just as important as the actors and plot. The director is fully aware of this fact and has counterbalanced the images with a pair of actors who can support the weight of the film. Srdan Todorovic, who plays the compassionate Milos, and Sergej Trifunovic, who plays the megalomaniac Vukmir, both give performances that are two of the most memorable of the year. The crux of the film is in having the viewer travel along with Milos as he discovers what is really going on with Vukmir’s film. Milos quickly (in a matter of just a few scenes) becomes a character that we the audience sympathizes with. This sympathy stems from the love we see for his wife and kid. In one of the most clever and innocent conversations you will EVER hear between a father and son about masturbation (I know that sounds creepy, but it works well in the film), Milos exudes a tenderness that is attempted to be squelched by Vukmir. Equally as powerful is the sensational Trifunovic as Vukmir. Combining elements of an evil Orson Welles and a celebrated philosopher, Vukmir eats up every scene with elegant finesse. I could not imagine this film working on the level it does if it was not for the inclusion of the two actors in these critical parts.
Given all the praise I have given the film, A Serbian Film is not for everyone. It is hard to watch and takes you to places you most likely did not think it would go, and by all accounts will never want to visit again. Though like all great contemporary art, it brings up some interesting ideas. A Serbian Film is about the lengths some people will go to get what they want. This is evident in Milos’ desire for money and Vukmir’s desire for his art. Beyond that, A Serbian Film is about the limits of you, the viewer. In a time when horror films seem to out shock one another with each passing death sequence (ex. SAW 3D), a film finally comes along that acknowledges the very industry that seems to keep “crossing the line.” Though the director, Srdjan Spasojevic, has repeatedly stated that this film is a critique of what the Serbian government has done to its people over the past decade, A Serbian Film comes across as more of an allegory for the horror film industry. Keep in mind though, just as Milos fully agrees to the making of the film, we clearly demand the next most extreme movie to shock us. Ask and you shall receive. For many of us who clearly feel this film has crossed the line, we can ask ourselves: There must be a reason why we continually watch in horror these extreme films? I will let you answer that.