“Victim is the priciest sell in the world”
I really hope Eli Roth isn’t watching because Srdjan Spasojevic has just made Hostel look like a child’s fairy tale. After seeing Српски филм [A Serbian Film], I can only imagine directors of the torture porn genre salivating at the prospect of going even further—if it’s possible to fathom there being a ‘further’. I don’t think I could handle a response, the horrors of the final forty minutes of this wanton display of pedophilia, necrophilia, rape, and murder are finding their way into a repressed hole so that I can forget them as soon as possible. The words from the film within the film’s director Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), his labeling of the tragedy unmasked before us at the end as a ‘happy Serbian family’, make me want to somehow clean the filth, the guilt, the simple fact I finished the film at all, away. The worst part, however, is the fact that this is quite simply a masterpiece of its messed up genre, a film that dares to go where no film has gone—as far towards hell as one can get. The truth is, it’s a triumph.
Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is an aging porn star who has given up the life, besides the oft-romp to pay bills and send his son to singing lessons, and settled down with the one woman, of all he’s had sex with, that he loves. Lejla (Katarina Zutic) is accepting of his profession, so much so that when they walk in on their son watching an old DVD of Dad ‘beating’ a woman, they just tell him it’s all fantasy, a cartoon for adults. The boy’s talk about wheels spinning in his groin area only elicit smirks, the parents aware of humanity’s sexuality and allowing him to experience his body’s natural inclinations. Lejla is confident her husband tells the truth that he doesn’t miss the work, he has made a new life with them and besides the occasional shoot for money it’s family first. So, when an old co-worker/friend comes to town with a proposition for quality work with a true artist, Milos and his wife listen. Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic) obviously misses her old stud partner and vouches for Vukmir’s talent. Between that and the money offered, he cannot say no.
Never fully on board, though, Milos wrestles with the contract he has signed. Vukmir says all the right things, building the has-been up as the greatest porn actor who ever lived. He tells his hopeful star that it is Milos himself who proves art can still exist in pornography. A professional who could make his actresses fall in love with him, hate him, and then come running back, is what sold films and made him a target of this new, unique form. Vukmir has a clientele who puts up the money to buy his specifically catered work. They know what they want and the director knows what to give them. Unable to explain the full scope of the project besides vague declarations of genius, he asks Milos to trust him, to go in blind and just do what he does. The cameras will be in place, his co-stars will be at their marks, an earpiece will give him direction and motivation, and he’s machismo will do the rest. It will be a film with minimal edits—real people, real sex. What Milos doesn’t find out until a couple days in, however, is that he will be a predator lusting to take everything in front of him.
Spasojevic and co-writer Aleksandar Radivojevic have crafted a script that slowly progresses to an intense final half of memory recall and videotape viewing of a drug-induced night of terror. Before getting to that point, though, they bring us into the world, allowing us to see Milos as a kindhearted husband and father. He refuses sexual advances from Marija, he casually deflects the words of his police officer brother Marko (Slobodan Bestic) to ignore his jealousy and desire for Lejla, and decides to just go into work, do the job, and cash out. But the stakes begin to elevate ever so gradually as the security guards in black become the cinematographers following Milos’s every move. The first location is an orphanage for troubled children, a young girl, Jeca (Andjela Nenadovic), berated by a whore of a mother while the bosomed nurse shields her from abuse before going after the man’s fly, him left to quizzically wonder what he’s watching. Once the girl arrives again, sitting on a chair with her own lustfully taut expression as Milos is pleasured in a darkened room, violence rears its head, blood is drawn for the first time, and the film’s star realizes he must quit.
Things have gotten too much for the sex machine and, as an audience, I almost felt cheated that things hadn’t gone further. I had heard such horror stories about this film, after all. Well, no sooner had the thought crossed my mind then do we see Milos wake up, bloodied and bruised, in his own bed, completely wiped clean of what happened to get him there. The industrial clangs of a score amplify and sharply cut glimpses into the night before screech across the screen and his mind. He retraces his steps as memories come back, shining a light onto the activities for us at the same time. Sex drugs are administered, Vukmir’s berating for abuse is heard, and Milos becomes a monster ruled by his libido, destroying everything set before him. The ‘artistic’ work becomes an elaborate snuff film reenacted in short spurts of pain, horror, and grunts of ecstasy. ‘Victim’ becomes the name of the game and Milos becomes its oppressor. And just when you think they’ve gone too far, with winces of agony and thoughts of stopping the film occurring regularly, the filmmakers take you down lower into the depths of misogyny.
A Serbian Film is a gratuitous escapade of sex and violence not for the squeamish. Todorovic is a force of emotion and physicality, equal parts lover as menace, oftentimes switching back and forth, scene to scene. Once he goes through the second act’s replaying of deeds that cannot be undone, we get to see his horrified reactions instantly after seeing what created them. The women involved are all gorgeous specimens of erotic desire, but if you come away aroused, you need to see a doctor right away and question any sociopathic tendencies. Many scenes are unforgettable, from Vukmir’s crazed eyes as he speaks of pornographic revolution and the prospects of ‘Newborn Porn’ to the unfathomable body count, surprising changes of allegiances, and the incestual bombshell of a finale. The price of art, however, becomes more than just the souls of those involved onscreen. As the final shot attests, you may find that you’ve become the audience for which Milos is performing. Everything that occurs does so you can watch it. It’s a helpless feeling that will question your own moral compass, and that fact alone proves how relevant it is as a piece of cinematic, dare I say, genius.