“A Serbian Film” starts off with a young boy inadvertently watching a porn film starring his father and from there it gets worse. So much worse. So bad that by the time the end credits roll that creepy opening scene seems light-hearted in comparison to the waking nightmare you’ve just witnessed. If you are at all considering watching “A Serbian Film” you should be warned that you will see things that you can not unsee and these are things that, for the sake of all that is good and cuddly in the world, I sincerely hope that you most certainly do not want to see.
Here’s a list of actual things I did while watching “A Serbian Film”: covered my eyes and watched through my fingers, dry heaved, hoped nobody I knew would choose this moment to drop by unannounced, chanted “No? No. No! NO!” repeatedly, took a break to step outside for a few deep breaths and some fresh air, wished the movie would end not because I was bored but because I wanted this soul-corroding experience to be over. Believe me, it’s that bad.
“A Serbian Film” follows Milos, a former porn star who was once the Michael Jordan of his game but retired for the family life with his wife and son. Lured by an astronomical amount of cash into making one last film, Milos finds himself working on a bizarre improvisational synthesis of art and porn with a script he isn’t allowed to see. Initially, the film Milos’s mysterious employer is making seems to be a highfalutin take on reality porn, but the situations become increasingly dangerous and transgressive until Milos decides to leave the film. It’s too late, though, because by that point Milos has been drugged with an industrial strength aphrodisiac that’s meant for stud bulls. By the time the drugs wear off three days later, Milos finds that he’s been coerced into doing some unspeakable things which have indelible consequences.
Make no mistake, terrible things happen in this movie. Things so appalling that I don’t even want to specifically mention them here. Suffice it to say, “A Serbian Film” puts the ‘porn’ in ‘torture porn’. All of the violence in this movie is of a sexual nature and the film leaves no sexual taboo unmolested and even blazes new ground to find sexual situations that would make the internet blush. Basically, if you imagine the experience of watching that one scene from “Irreversible” (you know the one) stretched out and repeated in a mind-numbing number of variations over the course of an hour and a half, then you have a good idea of what it feels like to watch “A Serbian Film”. Whether you want to experience that or not is entirely up to you.
As hard as it is to not just focus on the morally abhorrent scenes in this film, if you look past them you have to admit that this is an remarkably well-made film by a director with a wealth of talent. If you judge a film by how absolutely it nails the director’s vision, then “A Serbian Film” is a home-run. It would be unfair to dismiss the movie as merely a salacious wad of exploitation. This is a brutal, dark, visceral art film that if anything, succeeds too well. You will come out of this movie feeling as if you’ve just taken a guided tour though the worst parts of hell. It’s not fun.
As the title would indicate, “A Serbian Film” is also partly meant to be an analogy to the blood-soaked and atrocity-filled recent history of Serbia. I honestly don’t have the background knowledge or insight to draw any definite parallels between the film and its political and sociological context, but if this movie can be seen as a response to the events accompanying the balkanization of the former Yugoslavia, then it can be inferred at the least that some pretty heinous stuff went down there. If this film ever gets any sort of widespread recognition, it could probably single-handedly destroy whatever Serbian tourism industry there is.
Like “Antichrist” and “Martyrs” before it, “A Serbian Film” is a hard film to quantify. On the one hand, it’s exceedingly well-made and packs an emotional punch that’s as strong as any film I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, it’s not an experience that most people would want to have, or perhaps even should have. Quite frankly, even though this is a remarkable film I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it to anyone. There are those (and I’m as guilty as anyone) who despite all the warnings are going to watch this film anyway, just to see what the extreme fringes of cinema can look like. To those people I’ll just say, in all seriousness, be prepared and be sure this is really something you want to get yourself into.