If I never give a single piece of advice again in my life, I want my final departing message to be this: you must never, ever watch A Serbian Film.
Please, never watch A Serbian Film.
That sounds like some kind of challenge, doesn’t it? I’d much rather you didn’t take it as one. It is not a dare; it’s a heartfelt request. I mean this genuinely. It would be irresponsible of me as a critic, and arguably as a human being, to let this go unsaid. I’m not advising you to check it out if you’re into this kind of thing. (If you’re into this kind of thing, see a doctor). I’m not suggesting this a niche movie, or that there might be something to enjoy about it. I am saying, earnestly, that you should not watch it. Doing so will actively make your life worse. I know this because, for reasons that are mysterious even to me, I watched it all the way through. I’m fairly sure there’s something wrong with me.
Over the past twenty-six years I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I’ll always be the first to admit that. I haven’t necessarily made the decisions I should have, and often the ones I have made have proved to be incorrect for all involved. I’m not shy or ashamed about any of this, because it’s a fundamental part of growing up and being a human being. We live, we make mistakes, and we learn. But watching A Serbian Film is one of the worst mistakes I’ve made in a long time. There’s nothing to be learned from it. I usually make jokes in these things, and I can’t even summon the will to do that. I just feel a bit sick. There were four separate moments between the opening and closing credits where I simply turned the thing off; four individual points where my brain kicked back in, my senses returned, and I realised what I was doing. I think it was possibly the third of these instances when I asked, loudly to the empty room, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?”
I don’t have an answer to that question. I thought I did, but now I’m really not sure. I don’t know why I started watching A Serbian Film, I don’t know why I didn’t stop until it was over, I don’t know why I’m writing about it now, and I don’t know what I would have done with those ninety minutes if I had a different career which didn’t compel me to do these things. The more prevalent question is why each time I realized that I was making a mistake did I still turn the thing back on?
Perhaps it was morbid curiosity or even some misplaced sense of professional pride. I could make a case for both of those, and I probably should. What I couldn’t make a case for is A Serbian Film being worth it. I know for a definitive fact that not a single second or frame in that hour and a half could be deemed as valuable to anything. Not to the medium, to genre fans, to the human race in general – not in any conceivable way. I cannot fathom a single justifiable reason for A Serbian Film’s continued existence. But I watched it all. I suppose the only explanation is that there really is something wrong with me.
A Serbian Film is the first feature-length production from Serbian director Srđan Spasojević. While I would never elect to attack the man personally, questions must be raised about his character. There is shit on display here that transcends any kind of depravity I’ve ever seen in filmmaking before, and I say that as someone who sat through all three Human Centipede movies (and even kind of enjoyed the first one). The only thing more horrifying than the fact I saw A Serbian Film is that I was able to see it in the first place; that someone actually thought of it and committed it to film. There have been war crimes tribunals based on less atrocious acts.
Speaking of which, Spasojević would have you believe that A Serbian Film is actually a political allegory on the sad state of post-Milosevic Serbian society, and the condition of the movie industry within that nation. Even the title is, supposedly, “A metaphor for our national cinema – boring, predictable and altogether unintentionally hilarious”. I don’t believe this is true. That this man believes hilarity exists within or indeed anywhere near A Serbian Film is particularly telling. I think Srđan Spasojević is confused. I don’t think he knows why his film exists any more than I do.
There is undoubtedly room in this medium for tackling morally and ethically questionable topics in the pursuit of artistic commentary, but you can’t just say that’s what you’re doing. If you can’t identify what the work is a criticism of, it isn’t a criticism of anything. Beating a dead horse in the fervent hope that its twitching carcass will offer some semblance of life isn’t commenting; it’s just battering a dead animal. A Serbian Film is a foul, stinking corpse of a movie, and Spasojević is kicking the shit out of it. But for what? There’s no point to any of it, no message or moral. He isn’t even kicking with any finesse. It’s just thoughtless, artless stamping, for no purpose other than being able to turn to the stunned onlookers, arms outstretched, drenched in offal.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about any of the events which transpire within, because I feel that doing so would directly lower my worth as a human being. But, a brief plot synopsis is a necessary evil, so here it is: Miloš is a middle-aged sort-of-retired porn star with a perplexingly good-looking wife and a young son who he’s struggling to provide for. In the interest of catching a clean break and living happily ever after, he accepts one last job in the form of (and I have never used a term as loosely in my life) an “art film”. The guy behind this project is a self-styled auteur named Vukmir (who is definitely not an approximation of any other Serbian directors, honestly), and his art project is, in fact, a child exploitation movie. Of course, Miloš declares he wants absolutely no part in this, and subsequently finds himself waking up three days later to footage of his various escapades within the previous fifty-two hours. What follows from there is Miloš’ variation of redemption and atonement for the actions committed by and against him during that missing time.
Conceptually, I can appreciate the idea of a porn star being an appropriate vehicle for telling a story about sexuality. People often forget that adult actors and actresses actually have lives away from their careers with the same familial responsibilities as the rest of us, and exploring how having sex with strangers for a living really impacts the stability of relationships and the intricacies of parenthood is something I could totally get on board with. A Serbian Film doesn’t do any of that. In fact, that Miloš is even a porn star at all is largely irrelevant. The various sexual horrors he is subjected to and personally carries out are not at all a commentary on his chosen career, but rather the result of him consuming some sex-based narcotic which is purportedly designed to make him aggressively aroused and suggestible. Not because he’s an actor in adult films and sex is a fundamental part of his lifestyle, but because he’s a man with a dick he can put in places that he shouldn’t.
There is one scene in particular towards the end of A Serbian Film which I’m pretty sure was banned from the American release, and I can honestly say that I felt as low and disgusted watching it as I’ve ever felt in my life. It is a scene which exists for no reason other than it was literally the worst, most horrifying thing that could have happened at the time. This scene is a precise summary of why I cannot respect or endorse A Serbian Film in any way. Its sole purpose is to push the boundaries of what is creatively and socially acceptable and use its startlingly sickening subject matter to lure people into spending their money and time on an absolutely worthless, toxic piece of garbage. I cannot stress enough that it shouldn’t exist.
There is a grim, polluted niche in filmmaking which celebrates controversy and humanity’s potential for evil in a way that has no purpose or intention other than making money off of our own stupidity. A Serbian Film epitomises that. I am sickened and depressed by its existence, and by the culture that supports it and provides an environment to house it. I cannot un-watch it, but I can advise people not to make the same mistake I did. If I never give a single piece of advice again in my life, I want my final departing message to be this: you must never, ever watch A Serbian Film.