‘A Serbian Film’ Revisited

The Reaction

The Film

I posted the above video about ten minutes after I had finished watching A Serbian Film. Those ten minutes had been spent in stunned silence. I’m not sure I blinked at all. The best way I can describe the way I felt in those ten minutes is that I felt the same as when I was watching the twin towers collapse. That isn’t me trying to make a sensationalist claim, or an easy allegory; the film is as equally shocking and horrifying as it was watching events that would change the world unfold before me.

I’d fully intended on doing an Infamovie on A Serbian Film, and after watching it I decided I didn’t want to spend the time with the movie that I would need to do a full review; Salo took its toll on me in the worst way doing that, and I didn’t want to feel that level of cataclysmic depression again, so I posted the first take of my response. Two days ago, with the benefit of time passing, I decided to sit down and watch it again, this time with the aim of a belated Infamovie; it won’t happen. There is nothing to be gained from me describing the film scene-by-scene, there is nothing new I can contribute in terms of telling you how much you shouldn’t watch it that you can’t already read from more skilled writers. But I do need to address it.

The Message

Supposedly, a film designed to emulate the experience of living in Serbia for anyone who hasn’t experienced the horrors of such a corrupt nation first hand.

This fails. The film may well and truly be as horrendous to watch as it is to be a Serbian citizen, living under the watch and cruelty of a twisted government. I’m not Serbian, I won’t ever be Serbian, and while I can sympathise with anyone who lives in such a crapsack world, what the film leaves you with is a feeling that as an act of mercy, we should nuke the nation.

If the film is trying to shock the viewer into the same experience, it succeeds, but to what end? We may have felt the same as a downtrodden Serb, but then what are we meant to do? It’s hardly raising awareness to their issues, it’s not asking for help or attention, it’s just being cruel to the people who view it. The film makes it clear that there’s no chance of affecting a power structure as demented as the Serbian government, and history has shown (as well as the film’s version of events too) that someone just as bad, if not worse will just come along and continue the same imbalance of power.

You watch the film, and at its end, you don’t even feel appreciative for living in a comparatively blissful country like Australia. You just feel nasty and unclean, as though the film has violated you in many ways.

The Result

In trying to attack the Serbian government, and I suspect also the nonchalance of the world to Serbia’s plight, we have a film that got so close to hitting the mark and then derailed itself with its own plans to shock and appal. I can tell you that this is a film where a character is killed because a well-hung porn-star shoves his erect penis through his eye socket. I can also tell you that despite the ludicrous description, the scene is not hilarious or even hinting towards narm, and that in the context of the film it’s as excruciating as the filmmakers want it to be. What I can’t tell you is how the scene works. It’s horrifying, it’s unpleasant, it’s well-placed in a horror film that uses pornography for violent and not erotic means, but I can’t tell you the overall point.

I can’t sit with a beer and discuss the horrible things that happen to Serbian citizens and relate it allegorically to a man being eye-fucked to death. I can tell you that I felt unbelievably damaged by the film the first time I saw it, but I can’t relate that to Serbia, because the film instead focuses on the destruction of this one man, this happy family, and in doing so ignores its larger message. It’s all well and good for the film to hold a sign over its head that tells you there’s a metaphor in it, but if that isn’t expressly addressed then it’s an empty metaphor that gets ignored while the second half of the film aims to destroy you.

The Future

What we now have, and this is possibly the worst thing to come from this, is a film that has gone so far beyond what could ever be considered acceptable that it has raised the depravity-bar, whether or not it was intentional.

What will inevitably come along is a film that tries to outdo it. Some film will have a scene that tries to be even more shocking than a graphic depiction of a baby being born and then raped within seconds of it taking its first breath. A film will try to outdo having a man viciously rape his own son in graphic detail.

As for future viewers, I’m sure this will become some badge of pride for those inclined to trolling. I’ve already had friends tell me it wasn’t as bad as its reputation. I can only deduce that being forewarned is a large mercy. Watching it for a second time, knowing what’s to come, expecting the same devastating impact as the first viewing – I’ll admit I was surprised at how much more palatable it was. Whether this is because I knew what to expect, or the mere fact that I was pre-emptively bracing for the same shock, I don’t know.

There are those who will laugh at the film, to annoy those who were shocked by it. I hope that the laughter is also some form of defence, to not let it in. There are those will think it’s amusing to subject friends to this film; these people need to be smacked.

And of course, there are those who will defend the film, and attack those who decry it. There is a lot to defend in this movie, but the defensible is rendered pointless by the film’s own decision to stray from its merit to provide a sadistic roller-coaster of torment on the viewer.  As with Salo, some will call it art. Art is of course subjective, and in many ways, this film is admirable for what it contains, in that you can experience a catharsis unlike any other, and in so doing hope to never experience again.

The first 50-odd minutes of the film are compelling, intriguing and unsettling. There is something going on, a mystery you want the answers to without having to go through the process of solving it. Groundwork is laid for a message to be delivered. Then the last 40 minutes of the film disintegrate into the worst kind of nightmare, and any message to be derived is forgotten. Like Salo, the result is reprehensible and disgusting. Like Salo, it will be considered a masterpiece for the few who feel the need to disguise their own disgust as appreciation for something they can’t understand, and instead pretend to be above those who act as understandably as possible – with horror and disgust.

The Stance 

It’s far too tempting to develop an absolute and stick to it. I’m against censorship. I don’t think it should happen. But to be so absolute in this stance is foolish. Some things the world was not meant to see, and this is one of them.

I hate Salo. That it exists in the same world where I have felt happiness is a bad thing. But despite my hatred for it, I can look at it clinically and say that its tone is the major problem. It’s so gleefully sadistic and depraved that that is what makes it awful. The measurable content in it is not so much that I think it can be outright banned, but the subjective tone of the film is what makes that content all the worse.

A Serbian Film is a far superior film to Salo. Despite how badly it attempts to do it, A Serbian Film has all of its shocking elements run alongside a storyline. Salo is just a checklist of scenes that are intended to disgust. But the content of A Serbian Film is so much more considerably worse. The tone is still a matter of being subjective, and it is a nasty movie, but it is better than Salo.

Despite all of this, I have to take a step back from my easy absolute, and say that for once, I not only understand, but also kind of support the ban. A Serbian Film is an extreme film like no other, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it being allowed in Australia. Ultimately, it is a serious-minded film that seems to go astray, and in ways that I can’t possibly comprehend, given my removal from the experience of the average Serbian.

But….I suppose, in the end, I have to say that if it’s out there, it’s up to an Australian to decide whether they should see it or not. I would like to recommend people against seeing it, it’s an incredibly damaging film. But, democratically, you should still have the right to see it if you wish. I don’t wish to see it again any time soon, but it’s still not right for it to be withheld entirely.


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