Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Serbian Film (2010)

I didn't go looking for this film, but when it was pointed out to me, I knew I had to see it. I'm drawn to controversy. And I'm interested in the way that cultures depict the extremes of human civilization. Not purely for entertainment value, though there may be some of that too, but for the intellectual fascination it provides. We talk about normality all the time, but the way we talk about the monsters and demons and specters among us is what really tells us who we are.

A quick look at the plot synopsis reveals that this movie is about a retired porn star who takes one last job for an art film that turns out to actually be a snuff film, allegedly involving elements of necrophilia and pedophilia. But the most shocking thing (and considering the plot keywords, that's saying a lot) is that it's actually a good movie! Judging from its description, I thought it was going to be trash, but I figured it was worth seeing to find out what, if anything, it had to say about the extremes of human nature, and because the idea of a film revolving around a porn star happens to interest me.

But get this: it's a good story. The characters are believable, and are acted well. And while a large portion of the movie depends on shock & gore, even that part maintains a sense of mystery - putting the pieces together, leaving you wondering just where it will all end. And before we get to that part, the suspense is palpable. From reading the description, you know you're in for a wild ride, but it starts out slow. You get the sense of, "I don't know what's going to happen, but it could be anything", and that's really creepy in a movie. When you don't know just how far the director is willing to go, there's a sense of uncertainty, and a lack of control. With most films, you can expect a certain level of intensity. Other films surprise you with something you hadn't anticipated. With a film like this, you know it's going to get rough, but you can only imagine what's in store.

The characterization of the porn star is very respectable, which earns points in my book. He's not stigmatized by what he does (not by the people close to him at least), his wife isn't jealous, and he has an honest but considerate approach towards his young son's questions about his work. The art director, who turns out to be undeniably insane, starts out rather reasonable, with some great insights about art, and how pornography can be lifted to an art form. (It's too bad he has such little concern, or rather, such intense enthusiasm, for the suffering of others). And the porn star's reactions to the shady art director's offer are very believable. He's suspicious, but he needs the money. He proceeds cautiously, and when things get too sketchy, he tries to back out. Unfortunately for him, he's already in too deep.

My favorite part of the film is the first couple days of the shoot for the art film. The major stipulation of the deal is that the porn star is to know nothing about the shoot - he must simply show up, follow instructions, and do his porn star best. So there's a whole lot of mystery. What will he be asked to do, and how will he react to it? Since the character has been humanized, you can empathize with him, and you know his reactions will be humane and likely on par with yours. The first day, they start shooting at an orphanage. Instantly, you feel uneasy. What are they doing there, of all places? There are a couple of women - a nurse, and a mother - plus a young girl. You feel concern at where the narrative is headed. Things get more and more uncomfortable. The suspense here is intense. Then the shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose.

With all the suspense and the hype (yes, one person saying "this looks intense" counts as hype to me), I was wondering if the film would deliver the horror in the end, and I must say, it most certainly did. Very psychologically damaging, above all the gore and violent sex. And a very depressing ending. I do not know much about Serbia, but I've read that this film is something of an allegorical tale about its history. Something about its people being forced to do heinous things, and treated in kind. I knew nothing of this while watching the film, and still enjoyed the film immensely. Knowing this after the fact increases my appreciation for the film - that there is symbolism and meaning behind it, that there is a point for the extreme nature of it.

I cannot recommend this film to just anyone, simply for its graphic nature, which I know not everyone will be able to stomach. But neither would I advise nobody to see it (which in my case only attracts my curiosity), as I have seen others do. You must be able to get over the extreme nature of the film - specifically, the graphic sexual violence (and make no mistake, the sexual perversion in this film - a topic I have quite a bit of interest in - has little to do with anything other than brutal sadism, both physically and psychologically). But if you can, this is a very competent piece of film-making. Among other exploitation and shock-gorror flicks, this is a film of quality that stands out.

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