Movie Review :: A Serbian Film (2011) (NC-17)

When I say that you shouldn’t see A Serbian Film, my sincerest hope is that you will not interpret my words as reverse psychology. I’m dead serious in my assertion that you must avoid this pointless, disgusting, nihilistic, morally bankrupt film. At all costs. It’s a film I not only regret having seen, but also regret thinking about seeing. I should have listened to the critics who have almost universally panned it — including A.O. Scott, Karina Longworth, Peter Bradshaw, and Christopher Null — but I didn’t. Now I’m urging you to listen to me and not make the same mistake I made. If that makes me sound like a corny Lemony Snicket wannabe, well, there’s not much I can do about that. I’d rather sound like the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events than raise my voice in defense of this film, which would put me in the same depressing minority as Harry Knowles and Scott Weinberg.

From what dark, evil recesses of the soul did this movie emerge? On what terms am I suppose to accept it? At the end of 2010, when I included The Human Centipede (First Sequence) on my list of the year’s worst films, I received the following comment in protest: “What that man has created is a truly talked about, controversial, imaginative and unique film unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. How can you call that bad?” What this person is telling me is that a film is a work of art by virtue of its originality — even if it happens to tell the story of a mad scientist who surgically joins people mouth to anus. On this, we can agree. After all, art is subjective. But the commenter is making another assertion: Because the film is a work of art, that means it’s automatically good. I cannot accept this argument. Originality does not equal greatness by default.

And with that, I return to A Serbian Film, which certainly is “original” in the way it shocked and disturbed me. It would not be enough to call it exploitation; with its extreme sexual content, relentless violence, excessive gore, and graphic depictions of rape, pedophilia, and necrophilia, it’s a heartless exercise in depravity. It tells the story of Milos (Srdan Todorovic), a semi-retired porn star. He’s married to a beautiful woman. He adores his young son — who’s introduced as he watches one of his father’s movies on DVD, his expression deadpan. There will be a few instances when the kid describes the funny feeling he gets watching those movies, which he likens to wheels spinning in his nether regions. Milos tells him that, when the wheels spin, he must try and catch them, or something along those suggestive lines. Did I forget to mention that his son is five, maybe six years old?

In spite of his happy family life, he’s strapped for cash. Here enters Lejla (Katarina Zutic), Milos’ former costar known for her beastiality; aware that he wants to secure his family’s financial future, she offers him the chance to star in a new art film from a director known only as Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), an independently wealthy and well-connected pornographic filmmaker. Although he remains suspiciously vague on specifics, including the content of the film and what Milos’ role will be, his offer is enticing, financially speaking. Within no time, Milos is being driven to an orphanage, where he will be given an earpiece and be instructed on where to go and what to do. All the while, a camera crew will be following him, recording his every action.

Scene after scene of explicit sexual perversions make up the rest of the film. All of it is repugnant, but specific scenes are so relentlessly indecent that they call into question the mental state of the filmmakers — and the critics that gave this movie a positive review. Consider an example of what Vukmir calls Newborn Porn, which is projected on a screen for Milos to watch. A naked woman on a metal slab graphically gives birth, and a man wearing latex gloves and a muscle shirt is there to grab the placenta-coated child by the feet, slap its behind, and get it to start crying. The man immediately proceeds to rape the newborn, and we have to endure its inhuman cries of pain. Have I spoiled this for you? I don’t care. If you’re seriously considering seeing this movie, you deserve to know the extremes to which it goes.

Other visual atrocities pollute the screen, including a woman who’s decapitated as Milos has sex with her — and he continues to go at it even as blood sprays from the neck wound. At a certain point, Milos will awaken, bloody and beaten, unsure of how he got to where he is and what led up to him being there; pieces fall into place through a series of grotesque flashback sequences and stolen tape recordings, all of which prominently feature barren rooms with blood-smeared beds. And then there’s a final rape scene so filthy that it almost made me sick. When it was finally over and the credits started rolling, I felt unclean, emotionally drained, and deeply offended. Perhaps that was the point. Bravo. Even if it is “art,” I still believe that A Serbian Film is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It will be interesting to read comments from those who think I’m dead wrong. I expect them to begin with the Human Centipede fan.