Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Of Wikileaks and A Serbian Film



"A Serbian Film" by Srdjan Spasojevic is a powerful and challenging motion picture I could probably write about without giving away any salient plot points. But it's one I can't write about without putting some very disturbing images into your head.

If you've got a low cringe factor or score high on the empathy scale, it might be a good idea to skip what follows.

The rest of you may still wish to proceed with caution…

One of my neighbors is a refugee from the Balkan wars of the 1990's. Which side he was on doesn't matter. It was an ugly conflict with shitty behavior from everyone involved. Maybe one group committed more atrocities than another. Maybe one group is more deserving of blame than another.

Wherever you reside on the scale of unspeakable deeds matters little to those who were tortured, raped and made to witness indescribable inhumanity. Just because you weren't as bad as the next guy doesn't really matter to your victims.

Whether my neighbor's side was more cruel or less doesn't change the scars he lives with. He just says it should never have been allowed to happen -- and must never be allowed to happen again.

But we all know it will.

Maybe next time it'll be in Iran or North Korea or someplace most of us have never heard of or can't find on a map. But we all know it will happen again.

And maybe next time what happens will be even more twisted and perverse.

Maybe that's the only way a war can get anybody's attention anymore and attract enough participants to make it worthwhile.

And coincidentally, those terms -- Twisted and Perverse -- are usually reserved for two specific genres of film, the horror movie and the porn movie. The same two genres which apparently have to keep getting even more of both to keep attracting an audience.

Gone are the days when teenagers could be spooked by a vampire or atomic mutant. From "Friday the 13th", "Halloween" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" onward, the bulk of horror films have exhibited a steady march from Scarlet Cinema to Splatter Movie to Torture Porn.

To be sure, there are gifted directors working in the genre who use the advances in CGI, latex construction and animatronics to probe the hidden recesses of our psyches. But many more just want to see a Rottweiler rip off some guy's nuts.

People who work in porn will tell you the same evolution is at work in their industry. Time was, the punters paid to see a good story mixed in with the sex scenes, sometimes there was even an element of romance. But now there's little time for the niceties and a lot more emphasis on pain, degradation and humiliation.

Therefore in both genres, if you want to break in, make your mark or maybe just turn a profit, you know your best shot is to top what the last guys got away with.

When I first heard about "A Serbian Film" it had been banned from some European horror festival because of scenes described as too shocking or depraved even for those who line up for festivals of that sort of stuff.

There were dark murmurings of scenes taken way over the line. A scene of a newborn child being raped. Another of a woman decapitated during a sex act, with the sex act continuing with her corpse.


Most people would hear about images like those and make a mental note to avoid "A Serbian Film" should it ever turn up at the local multiplex. Which it probably won't because those kind of scenes generally scare off distributors and theatre owners who don't want their names in the papers quite that badly.


Even though I'm the kind of guy who understands horror and not only deeply regrets seeing "Hostel" but is still trying to erase the trailer for "The Human Centipede" from his memory banks, I have no time for torture porn and even less for real porn that includes pain and degradation.

So when I heard "A Serbian Film" was also pushing the boundaries of how much real sex you could fit into a mainstream movie, I figured it was definitely off my list.

And then my refugee neighbor brought over a DVD somebody had sent from his former homeland and said I really needed to see it.  


The plot of "A Serbian Film" is relatively straightforward. It's what is known in the trade as a "Rabbit Hole" story, in which our hero is dropped into a completely unfamiliar world where the normal rules of life and society do not apply.

Milos, a retired porn star now married with a young son, is struggling to get by in modern day Serbia.  A porn actress friend introduces him to Vukmir, a charismatic director who offers Milos complete financial security if he will make one more film.

But there is no script for this film. And the actor's contract stipulates that he must remain unaware of what's happening in the scenes he isn't in. He must simply turn up and roll with whatever happens on the day.

Comedian Bill Hicks used to have a routine where he and his high school buddies would call up the local porn theatre and ask the guy at the box office for the title of the movie that was showing. They'd have a giggle and then they'd ask, "What's it about?"

The height of absurdity, right? I mean everybody KNOWS what a porn film is about.

Or do they…?

Anyway, Milos goes along with the artistic integrity pitch he gets from his silver tongued director and is drawn into a nightmare of depravity and cruelty, suddenly caught in the grip of an unspeakable evil.

Unlike the bulk of torture porn and degradation porn, "A Serbian Film" is exquisitely shot and beautifully designed. The script is intelligent and finely crafted. The actors are remarkable and the direction is concise and bent on delivering much more than cheap thrills.

There is no explicit sex and many of the worst horrors are clearly fake. This is not a film that panders to fans of horror or porn, but it definitely is about exploitation.

The worst kind of exploitation imaginable. The kind entire nations get drawn into with frightening regularity.

Because ten minutes in you realize what you are really watching is a recreation of the Serbian experience of the Balkan wars as well as a chilling indictment of the malevolent sections of humanity who convince people to go to war and commit the ultimate perversities and depravities.

The horrific scenes described above and others that I found far more unsettling are clearly the atrocities of the Balkan conflict molded into horrific set pieces within the metaphor of a porn film gone horribly wrong.

This is a revelation of how those in a completely civilized society can be driven to acts of appalling inhumanity.

You quickly understand how easily people can be convinced that doing something evil is actually an act of courage or individual empowerment. And then you witness how easily you become a part of something you cannot ever justify but at the same time can never escape.

Milos struggles to maintain his sanity, to find some way of saving himself and his family as the sickness of those who now control him gets more warped by the minute.

The final few seconds of "A Serbian Film" literally took my breath away and leave the clear understanding that what happened in Serbia will keep happening because the corruption of those who would run our lives has no limit and never reaches a point of satiation.

This is not a film for anyone who believes they live in a country that has the nice politicians, the leaders who would never act in such a deranged manner.

Or maybe -- that's exactly who needs to see it most.


It was a revelation watching this movie within the context of the recent Wikileaks dump of secret diplomatic cables. Saudi princes who fund terrorists while urging Western nations to attack rival terrorist states. An Italian head of state with an unquenchable appetite for underage girls. American presidents demanding DNA samples and credit card pin numbers of foreign adversaries. Canadian leaders who feel handcuffed by their own court systems.

The entire Global ruling class game of playing one group off against another, of stirring up political, racial, ethnic and national rivalries in order to further personal peccadilloes is illustrated to perfection not only in those leaked documents but in an inspired film where all of those people are embodied in the character of a single deranged porn director; while the rest of us mere pawns become those who are used and raped and tortured at their whim and solely for their enjoyment.

And I have a feeling that clear association has a lot to do with why "A Serbian Film" has garnered the media reaction it has and will not get the mass exposure it deserves. This is a film version of Picasso's "Guernica" and just as deserving of the "Masterpiece" label.

Yes, it is very hard to watch. But coming to grips with being part of acts of genocide and war crimes and sheer mindless violence is likely just as hard. Better to do it now, then when you've become Post-war Germany, post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia, post-tribal Rwanda or former-Yugoslavian Serbia.

How could anyone be driven to filling mass graves, systematic rape and institutionalized torture, if they had experienced equating the words designed to lure them down those paths with speeches from a cheesy porn director in a supposed horror movie?

"A Serbian Film" could never have been made in Canada nor anywhere else where the culture is controlled or financed by the state. It has a passion and power of message that would have been as decapitated or raped at birth in the same way as the unfortunate characters it features.

It isn't the gore and rough sex that somebody doesn't want you to see in this movie, it's the workings of the process of dehumanization that gets you there.

If there is anything the Wikileaks dump has taught us, it is that our leaders are far from the fine, compassionate and caring people they would like us to believe they are. And "A Serbian Film" shows us what can happen when they completely convince us they are other than what most of them have always been.

This is a must see film. Find an uncut copy any way that you can.

You may not enjoy the experience. But you will not regret it.


Xakari said...

good writing bud. really appreciate the thoughts and the intelligence behind them.

MikeandIke said...

Good job. Really well thought out. Much better than our review. All we did was write a parody of Do Re Mi from The Sound of Music.


Michael and me don't read a lotta reviews. Glad I stumbled onta this one.

Ant said...

Hmmm I am intrigued... Very well written piece by the way.

Tim Porter said...

Hi there. I really enjoyed reading your article. I'm fully supporting this movie and have from the first time i saw it uncut. I run a podcast with two other guys from cult labs in the uk. I would love to get you on the podcast to discuss this film at some stage. Contact one of the team at

John Marcher said...

Excellent post- I really appreciate the apt comparison to "Guernica."

I agree the film's a masterpiece. Too bad most of the people watching it want to do so as a litmus test. It's been six months since I've seen it and it still weighs upon my mind, though part of that may be due to the fact it still gets four times more traffic than anything else I've written about on my blog.

I'm very interested to see what the reactio to the film will be when it is released in the U.S.