First of all, if you've read of the film's notoriety- it's banned in Serbia and prompted numerous walk-outs at SXSW when it made its U.S. premiere there in March- know that it's well-deserved. It's flat-out shocking. It's also an incredibly well-made, stunning film that makes Gaspar Noe's attempts at a cinema of endurance look like Tim Burton.
Here is the Red-Band Trailer for the film. Do not even think about watching this at work or with kids around. It contains nudity, explicit sex and scenes of blood and violence. It also has some of the great music from the film and gives an idea of what it's like.
The plot centers around Milos, a retired porn star now living a relatively mundane life with his gorgeous wife and their young son. Milos is offered a ton of money to star in an "artistic" porn film to be directed by the fawning yet mysterious Vukmir Vukmir. The catch is that Milos, who used to make his own films, doubts Vukmir's intentions from the get go. Why would he pay him money like this to make porn? Things become even more dubious to Milos when the director insists Milos agree beforehand to not know what he's going to do in the film. It's to be shot live, and broadcast outside of the country to well-heeled connoisseurs of the director's unique vision. It's Vukmir's film, but he insists he can't make it unless he has Milos in it, whom he considers an artist that no one understands. Milos has no pretensions that any of this is true, but the money is too good to pass up and he signs the contract.
Director/co-writer Srdjan Spasojevic starts laying a sense of dread for where he's taking us early on, aided by the most effective soundtrack (by Sky Wikluh) for a film I've heard since, well, "Requiem for a Dream." By the film's conclusion, it's almost physically uncomfortable to experience. The viewer is assaulted by sound and vision and though it's awful, it's also undeniably thrilling to experience a film that is so sure-handed while operating so far outside the bounds of anything acceptable.
The film's cast is perfect. Milos, played by Srdjan Todorovic looks a bit like Mark Wahlberg gone to hell, but has a weariness in his face more in common with Clint Eastwood in his later films. It's a performance no American actor of any stature would dare attempt. He may be Serbia's most legendary porn star, but he's also the only one with a university degree. He doesn't exude the faintest whiff of sleaze.
As Vukmir Vukmir, Sergej Trifunovic has a subtle malice masked by a high level of sophistication. He's a mash-up of the Marquis de Sade, Tony Robbins and Stanley Kubrick. There are a number of striking women in the film, led by Sergej Trifunovic as Milos' wife Maria and Katarina Zutic as his ex-partner in porn who introduces him to the deal and ends up paying for it through the mouth- literally in ways I don't even want to describe. Milos' older brother Marko, a nasty cop with an obvious attraction to his sister-in-law, is sleaze personified and well-played by Slobodan Bestic.
"A Serbian Film" is smart film-making. It opens with Milos' son watching one of his father's old movies that was accidentally left lying around. When the boy's parents explain that "it's like a cartoon for grown-ups" and later explain sexual arousal and masturbation to the child, it's done with an honesty, sophistication and warmth that's disarming given the content. There are a number of touches like this which elevate the film to something far greater than a horrific torture porn thriller.
But it is indeed just that, and in abundance. It's ultra-violent, contains very explicit sex, and crosses the line at so many points into taboo it guarantees the film is never going to be seen widely, if ever, outside of the festival circuit. Which is too bad, because in the same way David Fincher's "Fight Club" and Scorcese's "Goodfellas" say so much about the culture in which they take place, "A Serbian Film" is an analogy for post-war Serbia. What it says is too dark to even want to think about as an outsider, and understandably many Serbs have come out vociferously against this film, but having seen it I at least now understand why it's been banned. To call it scathing isn't even close. It's a blow-torch at full blast held six inches from the Serbian national identity and it aims to burn everything in front of it. It makes me wonder what an American version of the same story would look like. After all, we invented this stuff, right?
Sadly, there isn't another showing of it at the Another Hole in the Head festival scheduled, but if they add one or it shows up somewhere else, if you can stomach it, I can't recommend this film strongly enough. It's brilliant- and believe me, you've never seen anything like it- at least I hope you haven't.
Finally, if you wish to comment, please do not include spoilers about the film in your comment. While many articles have described specific parts of the film, I haven't because when I saw the film I had no idea what to expect and I think that's why it had such a profound effect on me. The less you know, the more disturbing it is.
The film is set to be released in the U.S. on May 13th, 2011, in an edited version in theaters.