A SERBIAN FILM — CLASSIC FILM PICK
Cowriter-director Srđan Spasojević plays hardball on the field of transgressive cinema in one of the most banned films in modern history. Since its release “A Serbian Film” has been outlawed in eight countries, including Spain, Norway, and Brazil. Only heavily censored versions of the film have been shown in England.
You couldn’t ask for a more succinct and evocative title for Spasojević’s brutal film-within-a-film indictment of wealthy exploiters of post-Kosovo-War Serbia. The filmmakers work within the paradigm of calculated filmic satires such as Pasolini’s “Salo” to connect jarring social metaphors concerning powerless family structures pillaged by government and industrial bodies. The attacks are literal, psychological, and physical.
The increasingly disturbing narrative is about Miloš, a semi-retired porn star and family man. Serbian everyman Miloš (Srđan Todorović) lives with his wife and their six-year-old son in a well-appointed house afforded by his years as Serbia’s most reliably stiff porn star. Miloš’s ever-randy physical condition causes him to take regular gulps of whisky to tamp down his ever-simmering loins. Miloš’s policeman brother Marko has the hots for Miloš’s wife Marija (Jelena Gavrilović) to the point that he can barely stand to be alone with her without sneaking off to masturbate. No one is loyal.
A princely offer from a heavily financed pornographer with the traditional Serbian name Vukmir (meaning wolf of peace) ensures Miloš financial security if he will make one last porn movie baked in the extremes that modern porn audiences expect. The offer comes with the caveat that Miloš isn’t allowed to see the script.
It’s obvious that the black-suited Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) and his skeleton film crew are more mobsters than filmmakers even if Vukmir passionately expresses his desire to reinvent pornography in the guise of a “uniquely Serbian” work of art. Miloš senses something is wrong on the first day of filming at a disused orphanage where he’s called upon to receive a blowjob while watching a dual-screen movie of a young girl named Jeca eating an ice cream. Jeca’s abusive mother became a whore after her husband’s wartime death so, in the context of the film, it’s only fitting to Vukmir that she should give Miloš a blowjob while Jeca is made to watch.
A Grand Guignol episode refers to what Vukmir excitedly refers to as “newborn porn.” The repulsive scene is as repellent as anything imaginable, and therein lays its transgressive effectiveness as a subatomic particle of micro-macro import; the depth of war’s violent depravity is unmasked. The sequence points to the most vile aspects of human nature that are publicly and privately acted out in all sorts of perverse acts committed daily by soldiers, priests, police officers, and by members of polite society. The mother is complicit in the horrific murder of her child by a steroid-stoked mercenary because this is what they both desire.
The escalating incidents of pedophilia, incest, and necrophilia that follow reflect a country traumatized by otherwise unspeakable acts of violence committed under the auspices of war. We witness the disgusting underbelly of a broken civilization where human values no longer exist. There are no degrees of separation from a communal psychosis that affects every citizen. By putting the narrative in a psycho-sexual-cinematic context Spasojević invites the viewer to compare his made-up pornography of death to the similar underlying nature of capitalism’s commercial cinema of the West and its attendant sponsors. In order to see the message of Srđan Spasojević daring work of filmic art you need only consider the capitalist aspect that makes it possible.
Rated NC-17. 104 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)