95 Mins (cut) / 99 mins (uncut
Adult Horror Drama
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A Serbian Film (2011)
15th Mar 11
Welcome to the end of the human race as we know it. Collect your belongings at the door and please swiftly descend into the fiery inferno just outside the exit.
There’s a chuckle to be had from one fleeting part of the BBFC’s intelligent, characteristically detailed explanation for the classification and censorship of A Serbian Film. It’s not often you find, among the reasons for an “18” rating, “the sight of prosthetic erections”. Presumably, the movie could have earned an “18” rating solely for “the sight of prosthetic erections”, even if everything surrounding said cocks was sweetness, light and fluffy bunnies being treated in the most humane way possible. That said, arguably “the sight of prosthetic erections” would have relieved the otherwise unending trauma and intensity of the “U” rated Watership Down.
Enjoy this chuckle for, although A Serbian Film is by no means devoid of humour, it may be the only comfortable amusement you will be able to receive from Srdjan Spasojevic’s notoriety magnet. Already a love it / loathe it / want it burned talking point at festivals around the globe even before its abrupt removal from Film4 FrightFest 2010, it achieves the apparently impossible by being genuinely shocking and upsetting in the most jaded era imaginable. As a soul-rattling exercise in Ordeal Horror, it joins the ranks of Martyrs and a select few other Extreme Cinema titles of the past few years as a scarring experience that’s more than worthy of your attention.
The Two Versions
“Even after cuts the scenes of very strong sexual violence remain potentially shocking, distressing or offensive to some adult viewers, but are also likely to be found repugnant and to be aversive. They are not credibly likely to encourage imitation.” (from www.bbfc.co.uk)
There was a time when the BBFC banned ridiculously mild movies like Slumber Party Massacre 2 while rigorously censoring drills or chainsaws or nunchuks from any number of innocuous movies. At one point, they removed what they deemed to be an offensive shot of a suggestive carrot from the jokey phone-sex slasher Out of the Dark (1988). A Serbian Film would have faced an outright classification rejection in every decade up to and probably including the 1990s, with the Board likely deeming it unsuitable for a UK rating even in cut form.
In 2010, it earned its 18 rating for cinema and DVD after 49 individual cuts across 11 scenes - alterations designed to remove elements of “eroticised” sexual violence and images of minors intercut with either adult sexual activity. The version you are legally allowed to see is thus missing the most explicit moments of women being brutalised in a sexualised context and the most overt moments embroiling young children in sexual scenarios. The movie’s most notorious sequence - but arguably not its most disturbing - involves the rape of a new born baby which, in the BBFC cut, is conveyed via reaction shots and the sounds of the infant crying. Typical of the BBFC’s careful description of the movie and its cuts is the emphasis of the fact that the “baby” in the scene was a prosthetic one - a reminder that, however shocking this movie might be, it is, ultimately, just a movie. You know, just like Slumber Party Massacre 2.
“It is important to stress that the filmmakers took precautions to avoid exposing the young actors to the film’s most disturbing scenes and, in the BBFC’s view, no scene is in clear breech of The Protection Of Children Act of 1978”. (from www.bbfc.co.uk)
The BBFC’s analysis of the movie and their reasons for cutting it are lucid and intelligently considered, a far cry from the days of us peasant folk being patronised by James Ferman while he articulated the reasons for not allowing adults the chance to watch The Exorcist in their own home. They are evidently aware of the outrage that would meet the movie in any form, cut or uncut, and also aware of the fact that anyone keen enough to watch it in its original unabridged version has 21st century technology on their side.
Whichever version you manage to see of A Serbian Film it is a powerful experience. As an adult in a “free country” you should have the right to decide for yourself if the aforementioned baby sequence is more affecting for being shown on or off screen (the obvious nature of the prop baby actually assists the impact of the BBFC version) but the film’s balls remain intact. Maybe it’s a small consolation but we are, thankfully, not in the era of Fulci movies having all their gore highlights excised completely. If you weren’t aware of the cuts made to A Serbian Film, the 95 minute version on the shelves at HMV would still punch you in the gut in the way all great visceral horror films should, and leave you bemused and curious at what could possibly be in the four minutes of missing footage.
A movie that ends with a practically operatic / Shakespearean orgy of rape and violence opens with humour, satire and even warmth in its depiction of a loving father and his relationship with his wife and young son. A Serbian Film needs its (relatively) light early scenes for all kinds of reasons, but they also serve to heighten the pain of the eventual descent into Hell.
The family man in question is Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), a retired and legendary porn star variously described as the “Balkan Sex God”, “an artist of fuck” and “the only porn star with a university diploma”. In the opening sequence his son is caught watching dad’s old movie Milosh The Filthy Stud, which shares shelf space at home with Acockalypse Now and Top Cock. There is an unforced tenderness in the plot thread conveying the small boy’s early stirrings of sexual desire, and the way in which Milos discusses these with him. Typical of the movie’s boundary-pushing, even these moments, given the kid’s age, will be uncomfortable to most audiences… and the beginnings of his sexual awakening get turned on their head in the cruellest imaginable way by the end of the film.
Milos is lured back to his old profession by the promise of enough cash to set up his family for life, courtesy of a new type of “artistic porn”, made for foreign markets by ambitious magnate Vukmir, who promises Real People, Real Sex, Minimal Editing. He openly acknowledges Milos is tired of kissing “some wretched cunts with the lips you kiss your kid” and promises a profitable new venture. Almost immediately, however, Vukmir’s intentions become apparent. Early in the shoot, Milos gets a blow-job while watching pre-filmed, sexualised (and, of course, BBFC-reduced) images of blissfully ignorant, unaware little girls licking lollipops or putting on make up. Soon after he is being coerced, in the name of “art” to ejaculate in the face of a heavily beaten woman while her very young daughter instructs only “Hit her…”. Welcome to Hell…
“The whole country is one big, shitty kindergarten….” An angry, nihilistic State of the Nation lament masquerading as a grungy urban horror movie, this at times bears comparison to the despair-laden Combat Shock and the emotionally wrenching In A Glass Cage, to name but two much earlier movies. Its existence in a cinematic universe where a movie like Hostel can earn an “R” rating and top the US box-office, means that it easily out-strips both in terms of graphic content. It’s a celluloid endurance test, in either version, that constantly challenges its own audience, making us question why we’re watching and, indeed, why what we are watching exists in the first place. Don’t expect easy answers.
It’s a movie about desensitisation and it’s a movie that deliberately crosses all conceivable lines in order to get its point across to the desensitised masses (that’s us) who think they’ve seen it all. It comments on the sexual imagery we face all the time. The cast is full of genuinely beautiful women to make everything even more uneasy, and the back-drop picks up sexual images on billboards, televisions, magazines and on the Serbian streets. Milos’ brother masturbates to thoughts of his remarkably hot sister in law and later enjoys a BJ from some anonymous whore while watching Milos’ family home videos containing the object of his lust. This barely repressed, unhealthy lust pays off in the worst way by the end, just like the sub-plot about Milos’ son.
If the movie makes us question our various daily urges regarding sex, its in-your-face depiction of violence takes it to another level. Vukmir is obsessed with capturing the life of a “victim” for a nation that will pay to see it in the age of internet snuff videos. He reasons “This whole nation is a victim”. The impact of the aforementioned newborn-rape scene (“A new genre!” enthuses Vukmir as it unfolds) is heightened further by the fact that it is immediately followed by a scene of Milos getting a raging hard-on and feeling up a very sexy, intentionally fetishised young woman.
En route to the apocalyptic denouement, the film is punctuated by flash-cut, harrowing montages and individual bursts of upsetting violence set to a discordant electronic soundtrack. As with all great examples of Extreme Cinema, you feel like anything could happen, you fear where it’s going and you cannot look away. At the point where Milos is goaded into a frenzy via Vukmir’s earpiece commands and ends up beheading a bound woman whom he continues to fuck after she is very dead, you realise you are trapped in a very dark and bitter place. Worse is yet to come.
“A real happy Serbian Family” is a line of dialogue used to ironically accompany what turns out to be one of horror cinema’s most distressing finales, the closing scenes confirming the pervasive hopelessness of all that has gone before. The no-extra-charge kick in the teeth at the very end plays like one grim final reveal too many, and sometimes the movie is so over the line it almost threatens to turn into the grimmest unintentional parody of all time, but it holds on to its power.
Galvanised by Todorovic’s fearless, unforgettable central performance tracking our hero’s descent from well intentioned family man to main participant in an orgy of eye-hole-fucking-madness, A Serbian Film manages that rare feat of being even more disturbing than you thought all those “video nasties” WOULD be long before you ever got to see them.
Versions The UK release was cut by 4 minutes and 12 seconds (a total of 49 cuts). However, no scene was cut in it's entirety and the implication of everything that happens in the film remains.