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Serbian Film (Uncut & Uncensored Edition), A
Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic in 2010, A Serbian Film has been the subject of no small amount of controversy when it played a few festival dates and was released on DVD and Blu-ray in some European territories. Not only did a German film lab refuse to print the movie, but it's been banned in Norway, heavily cut in the UK and released cut and then later banned entirely in Australia. Unearthed Films brings it back into print in North America, in its completely uncut form. The film is strong stuff to be sure, but is it without merit?
When the film begins, a young boy named Petar (played by an uncredited child actor) is watching a porno movie without his parents realizing. They walk in on him and while he's too young to really understand what he's seeing, he's perceptive enough to know that he's watching his father, Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), on the screen. It turns out Milos is a former porn star, one of the biggest male performers in the industry at one time, though he's recently retired from that business and settled down with his beautiful wife Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic). As Milos and Marija settle down for the night, she asks him if he misses his old job. He says not but admits he misses the money, as they aren't exactly rolling in cash these days. No one is really too surprised when Milos gets a call from a former co-worker the next day asking him to come and meet her about a job. He agrees and she tells him about Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), the latest and greatest ‘art porn' director out to change the industry. It turns out Vukmir is a big fan of Milos and considers him an artist. Of course he wants him for his latest picture and is willing to pay him a ridiculous amount of money for it. He talks it over with Marija and even discusses it with his cop brother, Marco (Slobodan Bestic) who can't turn up any dirt on the director, and agrees to take the job. Of course, it turns out that Vukmir is making an all together different kind of adult movie, one concerned as much with death as it is with sex.
According to an interview that Srdjan Spasojevic and his co-writer, Aleksandar Radivojevic, gave to the horror website Bloody Disgusting the ideas for this film came from spending the last two decades in Serbia where not only has the country been in turmoil, but so has the film scene. The intent with the picture was to take their own problems as filmmakers and as Serbians and channel them into a stylish and slick horror picture that would reflect their frustrations and provide some food for thought in the form of a few different and very confrontational metaphors. As such, the character of Milos is literally and figuratively getting fucked not just by the people he has sex with in the movie but by the people who are pulling the strings behind the scenes in very much the same way the writers are claiming those trying to make artistic films in their homeland are getting fucked by the mainstream cinema institutions who try to eliminate the market for such things. As such, this movie intentionally pushes the envelope and breaks down quite a few boundaries often considered taboo by even the most ardent and adventurous of moviegoers and much of which will probably go over the heads of most western audiences who will have trouble looking past the very sexualized violence and depravity laid bare before the lens.
Made on a low budget and without any computer generated effects at all, the film has a believably seedy atmosphere that makes for some interesting contrasts. Milos home life seems balanced and aside from a bout of rough sex that he has with his wife (who insists she ‘fuck' her rather than ‘love' her after watching one of his old movies where he's doing just that to a female co-star) there's not much to indicate that he's capable of what he's later put through. His dwelling is modest, his home clean but not fancy, which contrasts with Vukmir's place, a veritable palace complete with a gorgeous assistant running around doing his bidding. This is then later contrasted with the orphanage where the ‘movie' is shot and where the film really kicks things into high gear as far as its disturbing and frequently very explicit content is concerned. As such, essentially the film shows us the glitzy side of all of this and then rubs or nose in the nastier side.
In and amongst all of this insanely depraved behavior, however, the film has some characteristics that are likely going to go unnoticed. Some scenes show a clever, albeit very twisted, sense of black humor to them. There are moments where the dialogue actually borders on the witty and which indicate that, yes, this is all going to go so very far over the top but not just for the sake of shock value. Additionally, the film is slick looking, well edited and set to a heavy, and appropriately pulsing, electronic score that suits the production. The effects are all done very well and the performances, particularly from Srdjan Todorovic (who is apparently quite a well regarded actor in his homeland) are strong across the board. The supporting cast are strong here but it's Srdjan Todorovic that the film is based around and as such he has more to do than the rest. He makes the most of it and for better or worse he makes his character's transformation completely believable. The fact that he's at least initially doing what he's doing to provide for his family adds a certain level of pathos to the film and actually winds up making it as much a tragedy as a horror film.
To be sure, this isn't a movie that's going to appeal to a mass audience no matter how much the controversy surrounding it will get people interested in it. The involvement of a young boy in some of the movie's more depraved scenes will instantly raise some ire while the graphic sexual and violent content ensures it'll never get through the front door of the vast majority of households in North America. The film does, however, work on the same level as better known works of confrontational and transgressive cinema like Gaspar Noe's films, Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, and Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust.
Note: As mentioned earlier, Unearthed Films presents this picture completely uncut. We won't spoil anything here but let it suffice to say that the film's most notorious scene is even stronger in this version than the now out of print Blu-ray that came out in 2011 via Invincible Pictures.
A Serbian Film looks pretty good on Blu-ray, presented here in AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen and in 1080p high definition with the feature taking up 28.1GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Much of the film is shot inside the small apartment or in the dimly lit rooms where Milo's movie is being shot, so don't expect a particularly colorful film but there are a few scenes that do demonstrate some really nice color reproduction when the movie calls for it. There's a fair bit of blood on screen in a few scenes and the reds come across as appropriately sickly and gross. Detail is generally strong, noticeably improved over the last Blu-ray release, and color reproduction is also quite a bit stronger. Some scenes are softer than others but this looks to be a stylistic choice rather than a transfer flaw, it's almost certain that they were shot that way. There are no noticeable compression artifacts to complain about nor is there much in the way of shimmering or edge enhancement to discuss. Noise reduction never factors into the equation. While the content might be dirty as sin, the transfer is clean, crisp and clear.Sound:
There are two audio options provided here, a 16-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track and a 24-bit LPCM 2.0 Stereo track, both in the film's native Serbian language with optional subtitles offered up in English only. The 5.1 track's main advantage is the way that it spreads out the score rather effectively into the rear channels. There's also some rear channel activity in regards to the sound effects as well, while the dialogue pretty much stays up front. The stereo track is a fine alternative for those without a surround sound setup. Both tracks are clean, clear and properly balanced.
Where the past Blu-ray release was barebones, Unearthed steps up to the plate and reissues the film not only in better shape but with a nice selection of supplemental material as well. We start with a commentary with Srdjan Spasojevic and Unearthed Films' own Stephen Biro. This track starts off with Spasojevic discussing how he was influenced by a lot of American filmmakers in the sixties and seventies, where he shot certain scenes of the movie, how he cast the film and got along with the actors and actresses in the movie, why the sex scenes in the film are as intense and realistic as they are, when locations were used as opposed to ‘built' sets, the structure of the film and some of the metaphorical aspects of the production, the editing style employed in the finished version of the film, the quality of the film's soundtrack and what it brings to the picture, how some of the film's effects were created and loads more. It's an interesting track that offers some very welcome insight into the making of this still very controversial picture.
A second commentary comes courtesy of filmmakers Joe Lynch and Adam Green of The Movie Crypt. They start with some background on Spasojevic and how impressive this is for a debut film, locations that were used for different scenes, how seeing the film as a parent is a much different expereince than seeing it as a single and unattached person, themes that the film explores, the pressure that the main character in the film finds himself under, how the film compares to Cheap Thrills, how Lynch came to see the film for the first time, the influence of Sergio Leone on a specific scene, the significance of the security guards in the film, Lynch's being personally influenced by this film and his own experiences making films in Serbia, the film's score, the use of flashbacks in the film and lots more. This is a really strong track. More than just a fan commentary it's delivered with a decent sense of humor but it's also very informative as the two guys take the film apart and offer some pretty fascinating insight into it.
The featuretttes on the disc start off with A Serbian Film Exhibition, which is a three-minute video tour of an exhibition that was held in May of 2018 at the Lethal Amounst Gallery in Los Angeles that shows off some of the props that were made for the film as well as production art and related oddities. Behind The Scenes Of NBP is a six-minute featurette that takes us to the SFX workshop where the different props and models that are used in the feature were created. We get a look at how these were created and tested and how they interact with the cast members. It's an interesting look at some of the film's more notorious scenes being planned out.
More substantial is the forty-seven-minute Q&A From Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival with the cast and crew. They talk about how audiences have received the film, how the film deals with themes of violation, why the film uses the extremities that it does, what it was like on set, some of the politics of the film, the pride they take in the film, planning that was involved in the shoot, editing the picture and lots more. We also get a twenty-eight-minute Q&A With Srdjan Spasojevic And Jelena Gavrilovic that was held at a Los Angeles screening with Biro moderating. Jelena starts things off and expresses her gratidude to the audience before they talk about how the film got as widely seen as it did compared to other extreme horror films, different projects that the two of them have been involved with since making this picture, feedback that they got on the picture, more on the politics of the film and how it serves as a metaphor for life in Serbia and a fair bit more.
Rounding out the extras are a four-minute preview for the upcoming release of A Serbian Documentary and a still gallery. We also get a trailer for the feature as well as bonus trailers for The Untold Story, The Song Of Solomon, Torched, Unnamable, Nightwish and last but certainly not least, Snuff Porn Holocaust.
How much you get out of A Serbian Film will depend on what you're looking for in the first place. If you're looking for a well-acted and very assured piece of confrontational and controversial horror cinema, the kind that unsettles you and that gets under your skin, well, this will definitely do the trick. If you're looking for political allegory and deeper meaning, the film will fall short in that area for most western viewers. That's not to say it isn't there, but if it is, it can be tricky to find and to make sense out of. With that said, this is strong stuff and those who want to experience such extremities can consider it recommended simply because it ‘goes there' and does so without flinching and without apologizing but at the same time it spends enough of its length letting us get to know its lead that there is at least some emotional impact. This will no doubt be a film that divides audiences. If you're a fan of transgressive and confrontational movies, consider it highly recommended, everyone else should rent it first simply because a lot of people won't want to watch this more than once, if at all. As to Unearthed Films' Blu-ray, it's a really strong release that offers the movie a very solid presentation. Both commentaries add a lot of value to the package and the assorted featurettes as well quite interesting.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.