Monday, 9 May 2011
A Serbian Film Review
There has been quite a bit of controversy over Srdjan Spasojevic's debut movie, Srpski Film (a.k.a "A Serbian Film"), with people lining up on either side of that age-old wall: One side say it's sick and should be banned, whilst the other side say it's art, and has value, or at least that the creators should be free to show their vision to the world without being censored by governments.
I suppose both sides have a point, really - I remember hearing about Antichrist soon after watching Ted Bundy's final interview and thinking "wow, this is exactly the sort of film Bundy was talking about when describing what turned him into a serial killer - maybe it should be banned". But, at the same time, I only got the see the uncut version of "The Matrix" for the very first time a couple of weeks ago, because despite the fact I watched it on video when it first came out, and then on DVD after everyone upgraded, the uncut version has never been released in the UK on any format - all because it includes a few extra headbutts, which the Government don't want people seeing, for fear they'll decide it is a perfectly acceptable fighting technique (I notice Fellowship of the Ring still got a 'PG' rating despite containing a headbutt, though...).
So, both sides have a point. In the case of A Serbian Film, the pro-censorship lobby are screaming about how depraved and twisted the film is, and ranting about how it should be banned for the good of the world, and how the sickos who watch it should all be imprisoned; whilt the anti-censorship lobby are shouting about how great works of art should not be stifled, and that we don't need a nanny state to protect us, because only we ourselves know what affects us and what doesn't. However, in the course of this heated debate, with both sides attempting to shout the other down, and prove their moral superiority, both sides seem to have missed the real issue here...
The Film really isn't all that good.
Now, I'm sure you might say that I'm the one missing the point, because the argument about censorship shouldn't be restricted to only "good" films, and should cover even the lowest of the low - but seriously, I felt like I was watching a different film to the one everyone has been talking about. Admittedly I did watch the BBFC 18 release of the film, and not the uncut version, but having been online and looked up exactly what was cut out of the runtime, I feel I can safely say that I know enough to make an informed opinion on this movie, and it is neither art that should not be censored by the fascists in Government, but nor is it a sick and repulsive gore-fest that will cause people to become serial killers. It is nothing more than your standard post-saw shock horror, with a bunch of cocks thrown in to piss off conservatives.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and say the film didn't have any redeeming features, but nor am I going to play up its supposed message to make it into something it isn't. This movie isn't a masterpiece exploring what it's really like for Serbians, growing up in a country with no real identity, no real sense of individuality, and being oppressed by those higher-up every day of your lives. Nor is it a critique of Serbia's Government censorship of years passed, a Government which censored even the tamest of vampire stories for fear of what it would do to the public consciousness, yet happily broadcast the heads of its own populace being placed on spikes by Mudjehadeen soldiers fighting in the Yugoslav conflict of the 90s, in order to stir up public anger and hate of Muslims. This film reflects none of these things. How can I be so sure that I didn't just miss the point of the entire story? Because this movie plays exactly the fucking same way as a SAW movie, that's why.
Think I'm kidding? Not only does the film have layers of time confusion, skipping ahead of events, then coming back to scenes of gore when the aftermath is stumbled upon later (as with every SAW film), but it also has the same basic plotline as SAWs 3, 4 & 6, with an individual being forced to harm others against his will, just in the hopes he can survive, and it all finally culminates in a big twist reveal.
Now, I know what you're thinking - you're thinking I just twisted events in my head and over-simplified things to make it just seem like "SAW 4 - BUT WITH PORN", but the truth is the connection between this film and SAW is just as strong as that shared by 'Avatar' and 'Pochohontas' (or 'The Last Samurai', or 'Dances with Wolves', or any one of a thousand other stories...) - it's not definitely based on the other movie, but God is it reminiscent of it.
Hell, even the way the violent scenes are shot is strangely reminiscent of the SAW films, cutting between images on monitors, and jumping into the events, then coming back out again. There aren't the same jump cuts employed by the producers of SAW, but if there were I would swear I had simply accidentally bought a Serbian version of SAW 7 (but with more cocks).
The level of violence, too, is almost exactly on a par with the SAW films - in fact, most of it is even less graphic, despite what pro-censorship fanatics are screaming in the papers and on internet message boards. The fact is, aside from the sex, things are fairly tame by most modern horror standards, and the only real concern is that mixing sex and gore makes a different, more dangerous beast entirely. There are maybe 3 murders throughout the course of the whole film which involve anything sexual - every other killing could appear just as easily in the next Bourne film and no-one would bat an eye (except they might be wondering why Bourne was naked whilst shooting the enemy's henchmen). And of those sexual killings, one was almost entirely cut by the BBFC, so does not have any impact on the viewer whatsoever (that would be the killing I mentioned in my discussion on 'The King's Speech'), and one is so comedic I actually have to go into it in more detail in the next paragraph, so just bear with me. In fact, the only real brutal sexual killing which occurs is in a scene where, doped up to the eyeballs on speed, viagra and bull testosterone, our protagonist Milos rapes a woman who is chained to a bed, before hacking off her head with a machete which is handed to him by one of the snuff film's camera men. Violent? Yes - and yet, were you to show him rape her, then decapitate her in a seperate scene, there wouldn't be so much outrage, so why is there so much anger when the two are put together? Not only this, but the story has already start to become so unbelievable at this point that it just washes over you, and you feel no horror at all. In fact, the only moment which really made me wince was when we saw a quick flash in Milos's memory when it appears he cut across his penis with a knife, and we then see him piss blood into the toilet bowl - but it is later revealed that this did not actually happen, and he merely held the knife to his penis, threatening the director he would cut it off if they did not shut the movie down. Even the notorious "Baby rape scene", whilst a horrifically disgusting concept which creates some revolting images in one's mind upon even hearing the suggestion, is poorly shot, with effects so poor you find yourself thinking "shit, they should have got the guy from The Thing in to do this shit (though, that's hardly an insult. If you said "man, they should have gotten the guy who did the CGI on Two Face in The Dark Knight to come and do this" then it would be truly insulting, but you get my drift, right?) - yes, it's a horrible thing to put in a movie, but it's so poorly done your only real reaction is "why put this in the film at all?"
In fact, there were two seperate points in the film where I actually laughed at the absurdity of events, because although the movie claims to be a dark and painful look at what it feels like to have all power taken away from you, it is pretty dumb in some places. The first of these is when Milos is watching the camera footage back, and sees one of the guards rape him whilst he was unconscious. Whilst this scene is supposed to show Milos's complete loss of power, and humiliation, it is just plain funny, because Srdjan Todorovic does not appear to react at all to the footage, which means the tone of the scene has to be inferred from the tone of the video itself, which is shot in a highly comedic manner. In fact, Todorovic is so wooden throughout most of this performance, I'm certain they simply threw a chair in the room in a couple of scenes. No, I kid, but seriously, I'm about 99% certain he was only hired for the film because he has an enormous penis, since they make such a point of showing it off every 5 seconds.
That's another interesting thing about this film. A lot of the porn films designed for Broadcast or regular store release don't show erect penises, and you generally have to move into the murky recesses of the internet to find anything involving boners and cumshots, and yet somehow a film passing itself off as a serious movie which is in no way supposed to be a porno shows the main character's erect penis almost constantly. Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't get any sexual enjoyment out of watching this whatsoever, so from that perspective, one can argue it is not designed to be porn. However, I would argue that it's just because I'm not a sick fuck (despite what certain articles on this Blog may indicate), and that for some people this film probably is sexually arousing, and the gratuitous boner shots help reassure them that it's ok to jerk off to it (because jerking of to Gore without porn would just be weird, right?). If it does indeed turn out that Mr Nice was only rated 18 because we see David Thewlis's limp dong in it, then this film should by all rights be incinerated, because it certainly goes beyond the call of duty on the penis front - hell, I think Peter North would be proud of this film. Ok, enough dongs now, this is starting to sound weird, like I've got some kind of dong fetish and just can't get them off my mind, so I'll just mention one more thing about cocks, and then we're through. Done. Finished. Finito. Massive Dong. Fuck.
Anyway, the second scene that really made me laugh at the absurdity of it all was the scene near the end where Milos straight-up murders a dude by shoving his dong in the guy's eye-socket. Yeah, this is clearly high-class art with an important message behind it...
Now, I'm not saying that the movie was all bad - the direction seems fairly competent throughout, and the early scenes of the film, coupled with the anticipation of what you know will happen makes the beginning genuinely heart-wrenching. It's just too bad they couldn't keep the pace up throughout the film.
You'll notice I said "what you know will happen" - I don't mean that as in "because you've read all about it online already", I mean it as in "because it's so fucking predictable". There's supposed to be this big reveal at the end where Milo finds out what the movie's all about, and finds out who the masked man that killed his friend is - and it's so predictable I swear it could have been the ending to an episode of Lie to Me. But with more dongs. Shit.
I once said about the SAW films that the reason they were watchable was not the gore, which only a few freaks really watch them for, but for the evolution of the story, and the anticipation of what the twist at the end which ties everything together will be. Hell, you could say the same thing about Nolan's films (if you're functionally retarded, which since you're taking advice on movies from me, I suspect you probably are) - but this was just sooooo predictable that you didn't even have to think about it for a second. And it's not that all my years of watching Inspector Morse and Lewis have made me into a 1337 Television Detective who can work out any ending from minimal clues - it is just plain boring and predictable.
The very, very end twist, too, I found annoying - not because it was predictable, but because it didn't make any sense. It seems to imply that the whole thing was a set-up, and that Milos was destined, from the beginning, to (SPOILER) kill the director then murder his own family and kill himself to escape the horror. To which I have to respond "so... the bad guy was taking masterplanning instructions from the Joker, was he?" - what a retarded plan that would have been if it really was all meant to have been set up. I just can't even go into the levels of stupidity, I'm sorry. I'm too tired to even explain how that was worse than the endings of Memento and The Prestige combined (a lot of Nolan hate tonight for some reason, and I don't really know why, he hasn't done anything to upset me lately, he's just good for making comparisons...)
Hell, I would say the only truly redeeming feature this movie has is the incredible score, which is unbelievably fitting throughout the film, and really helps to raise the tension and horror. The direction is fine, the cinematography is great, and the acting is fairly reasonable for the most part - however, a poor script, which seems almost entirely based around a "need to shock", and a very poor ending means this film is disappointing. It's probably worth a watch, just to make up your own mind on all the fuss, and it's not truly attrocious - I don't feel like I wasted hours of my life on it, or even that I wasted the £5.99 I spent on it, but I do feel that it really fails to live up to all the hype surrounding it, and figure you'd probably have a better night if you just watched SAW instead.
Not awful, but nothing special. Don't believe the hype, as the N.W.A would say (or was that the DOC?). To be honest, I wish I could give this film a great review, seing as it features quotes from websites on the DVD box to try and sell itself, but to be honest, I just can't. Tune in later, and hopefully I'll find some films I can give the dreaded 1 star rating soon!
Just as a side-note, whoever did the translations on this film was fucking atrocious - like the bit where Vukmir's talking about Milos locking some woman in an oven and making her blow him, or something? Was that something which was meant to have happened, which is why Vukmir was so interested in Milos, or was it some kind of metaphor or parable or some shit, or what? I have no idea - and a couple of times the subtitles were confusing as hell, appearing at the wrong points in conversations, etc.