Serbian Film: Digging Deeper

Some of you may have seen Serbian Film by now, if not then I’m sure most of you reading would’ve heard of it at least. If not I’ll give you the briefest of rundowns. A former pornstar who’s down on his luck (And money) is offered a hefty sum to perform in a porn film, except it’s a film that keeps getting more extreme in nature. What starts with rough sex ends in paedophilia, all of it under the gaze of the film’s sadistic director. The film is uncomfortable, vile, occasionally funny; powerful and countless other adjectives you can think of. That is of course entirely the point of it. The film is designed to shock, that much is true (Least shocking is that the lead looks like American Comic David Spade, a thought that I couldn’t get out of my head the whole time I was watching it).

Herein lies the problem with something like Serbian Film, does the delivery of the message stop you getting the message itself? If a film shocks as this one does and does so under the guise of informing you, then can the viewer really take anything away from it? Most people will only watch the film once, and the one result of that viewing is such a visceral reaction that it’s hard to accept you can see anything other than what’s on the screen. Deeper viewings of a film only become so readily apparent once the viewer starts looking at the bigger picture. For some films the subtext becomes readily apparent on the first viewing, but for a film like Serbian Film or the underrated ‘Hostel’ and it’s sequel such things can easily be missed because you can only react to what’s in front of you.

Looking back at the film after the fact, and taking into account what the film makers say, you can certainly read into the whole thing as a treatise on the atrocities committed on the Serbian people. Personally I feel there’s enough evidence in the film to support that idea; of course on the other hand it’s all too easy for a film maker to claim their film is about something when it really isn’t. For instance there’s a scene where the main character is goaded into having brutal sex with, and ultimately killing a woman who is said to have cheated on her Husband, coincidently described as a “Serbian War hero”. I don’t think the occupation of the wronged husband was an accidental one, as it doesn’t seem so much the cheating that’s the issue, but rather who her Husband is that makes it worse. It’s designed to speak to the Patriotism of the main character, to appeal to his base instincts and to do terrible things as instructed by his ‘Director’. Of course if you take the role of the Director as the Government, and the lead actor as the common man then it isn’t hard to make the case that the film is about the evils that lesser Men are made to do by those in charge. All thoughout history there are documented accounts of evils that people are forced to perform by a Government or regime. Indeed it was a claim of the German people that Nazism was something that people had to adhere to, rather than a choice that people made (As always it’s hard to really draw a line in the sand like that. True some German people would’ve been forced into acting on behalf of the Nazi party, but at the same time there were many who actively sought out becoming members and fully enjoyed their roles).

The main problem with Serbian Film is that while the message is undoubtedly there (For me), it tells you nothing of Serbia at all and neither is it thought provoking enough to even warrant another viewing. You can accept the film as a condemnation of Serbian life but that’s where it ends. To that end it shares something with Hostel in that it doesn’t really inform a foreign viewer about America, even though the film is ostensibly about America’s place in the world (And how Americans perceive foreigners).  The other issue I take with the film is that it all culminates in a conventional shootout, just like Joel Schumacher’s largely terrible 8mm (Which was a far inferior retelling of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore).  It’s a shame to see the movie end that way, even if you do get to see the sight of a penis entering an eye socket, as it strays far more into conventional thriller territory than I would’ve liked. True the film ends on a massive downer of an ending, and it’s not as if anyone was expecting things to end happily, but the shootout gives credence to the “It’s just a typical shock Movie” crowd. It might be a semi cathartic moment (Again I must mention that a man gets an erect penis in his eye socket) but it felt like an easy way out, particularly since the rest of the film has been anything but.

Still, as vile and depraved as the movie is I do think there’s still some things to recommend it. The performances are excellent, and the film has a fantastic look to it which oddly lessens to impact of some scenes (I think had the whole film been done Cinema Verite style it would’ve been too much to handle) and I can guarantee that you’ve really never seen anything like it.

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