Written by: Glista Degelbeck.

About a year ago I was about to play padel tennis in Spain with a new client. As my wardrobe adjusted for sporting activities is limited, to say the least, I showed up in black shorts and a T-shirt with a motif from the highly controversial A Serbian Film. I didn’t think for a second that any of the people I did business with had ever seen, nor would ever see, this masterpiece, that not only should be labeled one of the best extreme horror films ever made, but also evoke philosophical reflections upon cinema and its audience.

My assumption was, as you’ve already might have guessed, totally wrong and one of the clients commented upon my outfit and displayed two things. One, that you should never wear apparel linked with one of the most controversial films ever made to business meetings and two, that Sradjan Spasojevic’s cinematic metaphor for life in Serbia is more famous and have been seen by more people than those blessed with the good taste in extreme movies.

A Serbian Film is highly interesting, not only because of its extremely disturbing, explicit and well-made content, but maybe even more because it with painfully clear visibility draws a line between, primarily, two categories of audiences. On one side we find the devastating majority: the person who watch movies solely for escapistic reasons. Her desire, watching film, is to momentarily escape the bleak reality in which she lives and last of all confront anything that can be derived to, and comment upon, her own existence. This theory hold up to scrutiny taking a quick look at what types of films dominate the box office charts; creations with simple narrative and fantastic, unrealistic subjects. These people desperately wish nothing else than to be entertained and as much as possible be relieved from anything resembling reflection (this is ever apparent in the (mainly American) films in which the plot, albeit being shamelessly simple, is explained to the zombified audience towards the end).

  Russian master of cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky, wrote about this subject in his excellent examination of cinematic poetics Sculpting in Time: Reflections Upon Cinema. He would probably turn in his grave, knowing what kind of direction modern mainstream cinema has taken, as he was arguing that the director have one sole purpose: to make the viewer identify with the spiritual problematics on screen and subsequently apply these on their own lives. It is also, according to Tarkovsky, despicable when a director let his own thoughts on the subject matter for the film he is making be apparent to the viewer. It is in the meeting between the viewer and the cinematic imagery that the deepest insights occur; uncontrolled by the director. Wether one agree with Tarkovsky or not, is of lesser importance, but his philosophy regarding the art of cinema offers a great background to understanding the potential that lies hidden in truly great film.

   On the other side we find people who, not only would be more likely to agree with Tarkovsky, but also - even though they also can, and occasionally do, enjoy a good story - can evaluate and appreciate other dimensions of cinema. These dimensions can be defined as, (amongst other aspects) cinematography, advanced editing, thought through sound setting, dialogue and various stylistic techniques, but above all the force of the symbol, the metaphor and the allegory. These people will be more spiritually enriched by the complex cinema (an example of what I define as complex cinema is Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie, in which the director with chaotic narrative and saturating the story with symbolism masterly describes the consequences of two utopian political ideologies, equally absurd in practice), but it will also react very differently when a film such as A Serbian Film emerges.

   To those who are capable of unlocking and using the fundamental principles of the metaphor what actually happens on screen is far from the reality based essence, whilst those who have been monomaniacally conditioned to only register the explicit story, react violently to A Serbian Film and its undeniably controversial content. Herein we find the explanation to the wide spectrum of reactions that Spasojevic’s film has produced. It contains a generous number of scenes that has made the censors around the world sharpen their shiniest editing scissors [sic] and revel in the art of destroying the original intention of the artist. This fact is hardly surprising, but nonetheless troubling, as the people who are making the decisions on these parts, probably belong to the first group of viewers that I have discussed in this short article.

   If you haven’t seen A Serbian Film you should. Not only is it a remarkably well crafted film, containing excellent cinematography and over the top sequences that will challenge your visual breaking point, but more important, one of those films you can watch to find out which category of cinematic audiences you belong to. Taking the contemporary cultural climate into consideration it would be impossible to have this movie on the list of films to watch during university courses in film, but it should be on there. I’m quite sure Mr Tarkovsky would agree with me if he was alive today.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Directed by: Srdjan Spasojevic
Written by: Aleksandar Radivojevic and Srdjan Spasojevic
Produced by: Nikola Pantelic, Srdjan Spasojevic and Dragoljub Vojnov.
Cinematography by: Nemanja Jovanov
Editing by: Darko Simic
Special Effects by: Samir Bastoni, Danilo Dudic,
Nenad Gajic, Miroslav Lakobrija, Petar Zivkovic.

Music by: Sky Wikluh
Cast: Srdjan 'Zika' Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Slobodan Bestic,
Katarina Zutic, Luka Mijatovic, Ana Sakic, Lena Bogdanovic, Miodrag Krcmarik.

Year: 2010
Country: Belgrad, Serbia
Language: Serbian, English, Swedish 
Color: Color
Runtime: 1h 44min
Distributor: Contra Film.