October 26, 2011

Blu-ray Review: A Serbian Film

So, I just watched A Serbian Film. Such feelings it stirs up. On one hand I want to say "That's It?" But then another, louder part of me says That is one of the most messed up things I have seen. I cannot even begin to scratch the surface of the intentions, but it is a movie that will leave a mark on your psyche. This movie makes Human Centipede look like Winnie the Pooh. It plays out with a cumulative effect akin to Oldboy and Cannibal Holocaust. It is a film that will cause a reaction, positive or negative. If you want to see a film made for a reason by passionate filmmakers, this is it. Just please don't ask me to explain what it all is meant to mean.

A Serbian Film begins slow and methodical, building its story piece by piece with a very specific pacing. It has a cumulative effect that wears on the mind. The story unfolds, motivations are revealed and then a switch is flipped and everything goes from bad to worse and from worse to, well, I don't want to use those words here. By the time the end of the film arrives it cannot come soon enough, it put me through a wringer. It was an ultimate effect I could not have predicted at the outset.

At the center of the story is Milos (Srdjan Todorovic). He is a semi-retired porn star who takes work just when his wife Maria and son Petar are running out of money. One day he is approached by a former co-star, Layla, with a proposal to sign on to star for a visionary director named Vukmir who wishes to bring a more realistic vision to the genre. Vukmir is willing to pay Milos a lot of money to come onto the project. Why does he want Milos so badly? Well, let's just say he has certain talents that helped make him a star in the first place. He does sign on, despite being told very little about what the film will entail.

The next day he is picked up and taken to an orphanage to shoot. Upon arrival he is given an earpiece. He puts it in and hears whispered directions. He follows them and goes inside. It all seems simple, but then a child is thrown into the mix and things get a little violent. Recognizing this isn't something he wants to be involved in. Unfortunately, when he goes to pull out of the project things go horribly, horribly wrong.

It is at this point I need to stop telling you what happens. It is in this latter half of the film that things happen that are beyond comprehension, a progression of vile and disgusting acts that no one should really have to see. With that said, I am glad to have seen the film. It is a fascinating thing to behold, even if I cannot come anywhere near to comprehending the layers of social commentary and meaning that it has.

The only film that really comes close to this experience would by the first time I watched Cannibal Holocaust. It is an experience that will forever be seared into my mind. That cannibal flick sat with me for weeks, infecting my brain with its images. A Serbian Film is having a similar effect, only different; this time it comes with the added knowledge that there is something important beneath the surface that, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, it is there.

It has a history of national strife and pain bubbling beneath the surface. There is a reactionary energy to it. This is an angry movie made by angry people. Whether you like the movie or not, whether you see the meaning or not, there is no denying that it was made by passionate people. This is more than a shock film and while it may never truly be seen outside of its homeland for that, so be it.

It doesn't matter that I don't get everything presented here. I think the fact I know there is more has to count for something. Besides, the surface offers enough to process without digging very deep. Film is a fascinating medium that can evoke all manner of emotions and this is one that goes a long way to dig up the dark and seedy side.

The funny thing is, for as disturbing as I have been making this movie out to be, I actually expected it to be worse. There was a time when I was hoping this wasn't going to be another Human Centipede experience, I liked that movie but it was nowhere near as messed up as I was expecting. For a while after it ended I actually thought it wasn't that bad. I was somewhat expecting wall to wall disturbance. What I got was a little different. It starts off slowly and then begins to slowly add things in creating a cumulative effect that gets under the skin and explodes through the surface in unforgettable fashion.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in a ratio of 2.4:1 and looks really good. It is not a movie filled with explosions and special effects, it is one that is best served by delivering is disturbing images in as great a detail as it can. With that in mind I cannot really point you towards any particular scenes. The transfer is uniformly strong with excellent levels of detail. I'd like to say it is a great looking transfer despite the generally flat color palette, but the images it is used for, well, kind of disturbing.

The audio is presented in its original Serbian with a DTS-HD 2.0 track. It is a well represented track with very good fidelity. It is not a terribly immersive track, although I am not sure how immersed I want to be. The track does deliver crisp, clear dialog and the rest of the sounds come through clear as well.

Extras. None. There are no extras here. I was hoping we would get something on the disk. A commentary would have been nice. I would have like to hear writer/director Srđan Spasojević and writer Aleksandar Radivojevic speak about the deeper messages they wanted to convey with this movie. I also would have liked some sort of behind the scenes to see what it was like on the set. At the same time, without having anything here, we are forced to confront whatever it is that we walk away with from the experience. I feel dirty.

Bottomline. What a movie. Seriously. This was an experience I was glad to have, although I am not sure how often I would want to take it. I did eventually make peace with Cannibal Holocaust, I suspect the same will happen here. When that happens I think it will be interesting to see what the movie offers upon a rewatch. I wonder if that same sad, dirty feeling will creep over me. Whatever happens, this is a movie to be seen, just remember, you cannot unwatch it once it is over.

Recommended? It is a tough call, but yes. Recommended.

Pick one between, as this movie is a moving target:


Article first published as Blu-ray Review: A Serbian Film on Blogcritics.

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