A Serbian Film
Srdan Spasojevic, 2010.
BBFC rating: 18 (with compulsory cuts)
One of the few films in recent years to have been refused an 18 certificate in its uncut form, Sprski Film would be interesting for that fact alone - just as last year's Gurotesuku (Grotesque) was for being rejected in its entirety. But unlike Grotesque - which was nasty, unrelenting torture with no narrative or message - A Serbian Film is a transfixing, astonishing piece of work.
The story follows Milos, a semi-retired porn actor now married with a young son. The opening scene involves this son watching one of his father's movies. (This is not by any means the film's most disturbing scene involving sex and children.) Milos is offered a final job by Vukmir, a filmmaker who wants to make a new type of porn film. The catch is that the artistic process means he's not allowed to see the script in advance; rather, he must explore the possibilities of each setup in real time, ostensibly to heighten the film's realism. However, the real reason Milos isn't shown the script is that Vukmir wants him to perform acts so illegal, immoral and reprehensible that he would never have signed up had he known. But is it too late for Milos to get out of the strictly-enforced contract?
The BBFC report makes interesting reading, but be warned that many of the more shocking scenes are described in such detail that reading it may diminish the power of the film. Having said that, the BBFC have insisted that A Serbian Film be cut by 4 minutes and 12 seconds for its theatrical and home video release so they've done a pretty good job of that themselves. Though, as I've said before, I find the BBFC's decisions thoughtful and reasonable, these decisions are restricted by the guidelines against which they judge films. The current guidelines are such that they
required forty-nine individual cuts, across eleven scenes. A number of cuts were required to remove elements of sexual violence that tend to eroticise or endorse sexual violence. Further cuts were required to scenes in which images of children are intercut with images of adult sexual activity and sexual violence.It seems impossible that these cuts haven't softened the film's horror. In its uncut form, this is one of the most affecting, disturbing movies I've ever seen. Having little interest in supernatural 'scares', I find most horrific the films that plausibly show people battling with the worst of which humanity is capable. That's one of the reasons I tend to defend so-called torture porn. But in A Serbian Film this theme is really ramped up, because it explores the real horror of what we, through our protagonist, are capable of doing - under the right circumstances, with the right kind of nudging. Vukmir is a sociopathic Milgram, twisting and stretching Milos' free will while observing the results with an excited detachment. The results are stylishly grim, and the conclusion both appalling and inevitable.