Srdjan Spasojevic’s debut feature, A Serbian Film, has been called many things since its 2010 SXSW premiere. Disgusting. Vile. Reprehensible. Gross. Boundary Pushing. Art. Exploitation. But the most persistent adjective used to describe the commentary on government resentment and the rough life of an entire culture – though, it can be argued that it’s not really about ANYTHING – is polarizing; polarizing in the way – as a friend put it – a passersby might gawk at a crime scene or car crash, but polarizing nonetheless. Regardless of your distaste or appreciation of it, it’s almost impossible to look away from A Serbian Film; it’s pure, angry, brute power condensed into imagery that’s haunting, to put it mildly. Spasojevic and co-writer Aleksandar Radivojevic aren’t really concerned with being heavy on plot; their narrative follows Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), a former porn star that comes out of retirement for a hefty payday and role in an “art film,” but is drugged with a speed/Viagra/memory-blocking serum and unknowingly coaxed into participating in acts of necrophilia, pedophilia, and a lot of other really messed up stuff. Instead, they’re focused on what it means as an allegory, leaving A Serbian Film to be all about what the scenes, actions and mood represent, and not whether they’re cut together to tell a compelling story.
Entire careers have been built on subtext, but Spasojevic hasn’t proven himself to be a Jodorowsky or Lynch quite yet. A Serbian Film is giddily content with merely pushing buttons and wondering if you’re brave enough to come along for the ride. It’s an exploitation film about the exploitation of a nation’s people by its government, which makes it smart in a meta way. At the film’s premiere, Radivojevic said that the film “is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government,” so placing it within the porn world is appropriate, but then it takes a step further and literalizes being fucked from birth in a scene that is sure to shatter souls, even if it does look kind of fake.
Like Human Centipede 2, A Serbian Film accomplishes what it sets out to do without any compromises, but the purpose of Tom Six’s sequel makes anyone who watches it out to be a villain; Spasojevic is just trying to convey the tribulations of his country. His sentiment falls short by not explaining even a slither of Serbia’s history within the film, making the imagery seem a bit haphazard and leaving those not “in the know” confused by what they’re watching. But for sheer audacity and power, A Serbian Film is worth experiencing as long as you can come to grips with the fact that you can’t unsee it.
I’d never heard of Invincible Pictures until now, but I’m pleased to report that their 1080p transfer for A Serbian Film is quite good, minus the baby scene looking even more fake than usual in HD. Shot with the Red One, the picture is clear and sharp looking, and generally upholds the film’s intended drab and cold looking color palate without letting anything “pop.” For the darker (in color, not tone) scenes, the blacks seem a bit splotchy and drown out some fine detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is strong, though it’s sad that there wasn’t a 5.1 mix created. It presents dialogue clearly and balances it well against the not exactly aggressive, but dirty feeling dubstep soundtrack. But a 5.1 track could’ve made the more nasty sound effects… well, nastier. A Serbian Film doesn’t place anywhere on my soundtrack essential list, nor the sound design one; rather, it lets the depraved things on-screen do what they’re supposed to do.
Sadly, there are no bonus features, which is a shame considering the controversy that’s surrounded the film since its premiere. There’s a digital copy, if you have a desire to see it on your iPod/iPad/whatever, but I think a bar of soap would’ve been more appropriate for all the showers you’ll need to take afterwards. Also, I’m not really sure what qualifies this as a limited edition release, unless the digital copy or slipcase is disappearing soon – in which case, that’s a pretty terrible argument.