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by Nigel M Smith
October 25, 2011 2:01 AM
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We Interview the Director of "A Serbian Film," Now on DVD (And Yes, the Movie Deserves Its Rep)

Srdjan Spasojevi's "A Serbian Film." Contrafilm.

If there's one film that rivals the controversy surrounding "The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence," it's "A Serbian Film" by first-time director Srdjan Spasojevic. Since premiering on the festival circuit last year, it's enraged and provoked for its gruesome depiction of rape, child sodomy, murder and necrophilia. The director of the Sitges Film Festival of Catalonia even came under fire from the city of Barcelona for simply screening the film in its lineup.

Everyone's overreacting, right? Nope. The film is everything you feared and more. Spasojevic spares no punches in bringing to the screen his story of a unemployed porn star who agrees to participate in a mysterious 'art film,' only to discover he's signed on to star in a snuff film involving child rape. But unlike the "Saw" and "Human Centipede" franchises that merely revel in creative ways to disgust, "A Serbian Film" is unarguably the product of a man with something to say and the skill to say it. That's why it's our DVD/Blu-ray pick of the week.

We placed a call to Serbia to speak with Spasojevic, who elaborates on the blunt politics behind the film and takes on his detractors.

What lead you and your co-writer Aleksandar Radivojevic to dream this tale up?

We just wanted to express our deepest and honest feelings towards our region and also the world in general -- a world that is sugarcoated in political correctness, but also very rotten under that façade -- with a movie style we liked.

Can you elaborate a bit more on the metaphorical aspects of the film, with respects to its blunt commentary on Serbian politics and history?

The major metaphorical take was to treat real life as pornography. The main character in the film could be a singer, a manager or a baker; he would end up the same -- rape and [then be] killed.

Of course, there is a kind of political and social level to the film, but I didn’t want to make any kind of political statement. I’m not running for president. I didn’t want to express my political choices. But it was inevitable, because in Serbia a big part of our lives is about politics. In Serbia, the biggest stars on television are politicians. It also looks like pornography; it’s about power, influence and all of those things. The last few decades of war have left a political and social nightmare here in Serbia.

So all those things are just combined. It was accumulating inside of us. It’s all about expressing some recessed emotions about our region and the world also. If you scratch the perfect surface of society in today’s world, you will of course find bad things down there. You will find the living hell down there. I’m talking about Serbia, about Serbian problems. But it’s also a universal story.

How so? It's likely your average North American horror fan probably won’t see the cultural implications you're trying to explore. You must have known that many would just take the film at face value, as another torture-porn film.

Yes, you’re right. But during making this film and preparing it, I never wanted to think about consequence. I never wanted to make compromises in order to hammer things home. I really did everything that I thought was best for the film.

When you’re making a film from your gut, the most important thing in that moment is the film itself. So I could not allow myself to think about the audience that would say bad things about the film. We had of course lots of problems during the post-production and finding theaters and distributors. But we never backed down and backed out.

In the end, the film is present in theaters and in festivals. Of course, I’m not happy about some of the cuts made in some territories, but as I said, I wanted to do a film that I thought is the best one for the moment and the story. I really hope this film speaks in universal movie language, much closer to Western audiences than to our audience here in Eastern Europe. I really thing that everyone, especially Americans, can really relate to this film. We are talking in really basic movie language.

By titling it “A Serbian Film,” you’re clearly making an effort for the audience to seek meaning.

Of course. I don’t like to talk about movies too much, but it’s part of the job. I really hope that every movie, and this one, can speak for itself. Everyone can seek out messages in this film. Some will like it, some will not, some will hate it. But the film is there to be viewed by the audience and not to be instructed by me.

How did you sell the film to the cast? You cast two very well-known Serbian actors in the two leads [Srdjan Todorovic and Jelena Gavrilovic]. Was it tough to get them on board?



Surprisingly, it was very easy. We were very lucky to have them in our cast. They’re of course fantastic actors and it’s their first film together. The most important thing was that they both really understood the idea and wanted to express themselves through this film and say the same things together with us.

What was the actual production like?

I think that the shooting went pretty much as smoothly as other shoots. First of all, we had to be very well prepared. There were lots of effects and some action scenes and lots of physical acting. There were no secrets between me and the actors. They knew everything I was going to ask of them to do. Once we agreed on everything, the shooting was just about technicalities. There was no time or place to think about the final product. It’s also very hard for the majority of the crew to see what the final product will look like when you’re on the set.

Of course, we were careful with our work with children. Their parents were present on the set every time. We shot their shots separately from the violent scenes, which we edited in later.

What do you make of the child pornography charges lobbied at the Sitges Film Festival for screening your film? Were you surprised or did you expect this kind of fallout?

I expected people to say bad things about the film. That was unavoidable because there are a lot of bad things in this world and people want to be protected from them. The film and art today are mixed up with those things and those feelings. Movies are not free anymore. You cannot send some messages even if they are good ones. They don’t care about the essence of the film and its context. They’re always concerned about the stuff on the surface. Is there any violence? Is there any nudity? It’s a very strange and mixed up situation.

On the one side, it’s very funny that someone can still find movies and editing so mysterious, like some kind of devil’s work. Of course, on the other hand, it’s very sad. It proves my film was right. One of the thing the film’s saying is that we’re not living in the free world. The way the film was made also represents our resistance to political correctness, to fascism. These kind of reactions are fun, interesting, stupid and very, very sad. It’s evidence that we’re not free people.

Sweet vindication for you?

Well, unfortunately. I hope that’s easy for normal people to see that this film is not about arousing, amusing or entertaining. There is nothing entertaining inside or, god forbid, arousing. We’re using genre and some tough tools to make our point. I’m confident that every scene, especially the violent ones, have their own reasons for being there. The violence isn’t there to shock. That was never the idea. Maybe the reason why this movie’s so hard to take, is because it’s almost like drawing my feelings on the screen. I’m sorry, but I feel like that.

Will your future projects coming from a similarly impassioned place? Is horror a genre you'd like to revisit?

I don’t even consider this movie to be a horror movie. It’s a drama that goes to hell. It’s not a question of, 'Will I go in the same direction?" I will always go with the same attitude, honesty and energy. I will always go to the end. There is no holding back.

Is there anything specific you have in the works?



There is one script that I’m finishing with the same writer. But right now I cannot tell you more about it. Of course, I’m hoping it will not cause the same amount of problems.

Also on DVD/Blu-ray This Week

Joe Cornish's "Attack the Block." Optimum Releasing.

"Attack the Block" (Also available on VOD)
This acclaimed Edgar Wright-produced alien invasion flick from director Joe Cornish is a fast, frightening and hilarious blast. A London housing project becomes a sci-fi battleground when some nasty aliens come up against a teen street gang.
Extras: 5 featurettes and 3 filmmaker and cast commentaries.

"Fambul Tok"
Sara Terry's award-winning documentary sheds a light on Sierra Leoneans' ancient practice of fambul tok (family talk), where victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war come together in an effort to forgive.
Extras: An epilogue, 2 featurettes and a director's statement.

"People Vs George Lucas"
Watch die-hard "Star Wars" fans and media personalities passionately decry the edits George Lucas has been making over the years on his celebrated series.
Extras: Live interviews with fans from ComicCon, a Lucas-themed music video, an interview with the director and more.

"The Conversation" (Blu-ray)
Francis Ford Coppola's classic thriller stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert who finds himself drawn into a dangerous assignment. Thanks to Lionsgate, the film looks as good as new in a fantastic Blu-ray upgrade.
Extras: Interview with Coppola and composer David Shire, archival screen tests with Harrison Ford and Cindy Williams, on-set interview with Hackman, audio commentary with Coppola and editor Walter Murch and more.

"Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion Collection)
Adapted from H. G. Wells' novel "The Island of Dr. Moreau," Eric C. Kenton's 1932 black and white cautionary tale "Island of Lost Souls" is twisted and a whole lot of fun. Charles Laughton stars a s mad doctor conducting radical experiments on a remote island. Look out for Bela Lugosi in a gruesome role.
Extras: Audio commentary featuring film historian Gregory Mank, conversations between John Landis and Rick Baker, stills gallery, a theatrical trailer and more.

"Dazed and Confused" (Criterion Collection - Blu-ray)
Richard Linklater's beloved first studio effort "Dazed and Confused" finally gets the Blu-ray treatment courtesy of the folks over the Criterion Collection who released their edition of the classic back in 2006.
Extras: Audio commentary featuring Linklater, a 50-minute documentary on the film, rare on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, audition footage and more.

And on VOD

"Margin Call"
JC Chandor's acclaimed debut which opened in theaters last Friday, tackles 24-hours on an investment bank's trading floor in 2008 during the early stages of the financial crises. The all-star cast includes Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci.

"The Catechism Cataclysm"
An oddball hit on the festival circuit, Todd Rohal's "The Catechism Cataclysm" concerns a young priest who embarks on a canoeing trip with his high-school idol after being forced to take a sabbatical. Mayhem ensues.

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4 Comments

  • Poo | October 16, 2013 6:44 PMReply

    Let me just make a film that has a dialogue consisting only of sh*t and f*ck and say I've done something good.

  • Film Student | June 10, 2012 9:56 PMReply

    First off I'm appalled at the ignorance displayed by so called movie goers! If you think you watch movies your not participating in the movie going experience at all because in fact you are supposed to read films! That's right! Films just like books use phonetic symbols to tell a story sometimes with symbols from the alphabet, but mostly with objects in the frame and their relation to each other. My cousin and his friend got in a discussion about books and film, and which inspires more use of imagination. It's like this If I gave an American a book in spanish do you think it would be more inspiring than a movie in english, the answer depends on the knowledge of language and phonetic symbols the individual has. So in essence watching a film with no knowledge of film language is similar to reading a foreign document so your not going to get much out of it if you don't know the foreign language! A good start is to read Gianette's understanding film!

    Now second m tucker it seems you are the coward but what is it you are afraid of? Are you afraid people will see this film and realize that human trafficking is real and that children are really being used and exploited under the guise of protecting them? Are you a truth denier? Should Schindler be put to death for exposing the horrible truth that his people experienced during hitlers tyranny? Well your definitely ignorant because for 1 the director said right above the movie wasn't meant to be cool! And you claim the film isn't controversial and yet your totally blowing up? You can't handle the truth go back to sleep! Just type Serbia Human Trafficking into your computer and WOW you'll see its the H-T capitol of the world. So far be it for a director in the human traffic epicenter of the world to make a film about what? No! Not human trafficking? And too show you just how disgusting politics and rich elitist are and the constant disregard for children in the line of fire, and the desire by these people to use children to push war then turn around and kill them all how dare he!!! Go ahead and contact the fbi I'm sure they care just like they did when they burned down waco and killed all those innocent children inside!!! I'm sure the local cps would love to put on a masquerade for you and show you how it's really done taking kids from their parent due to drug use and then hypocritically shooting them up with drugs when they cry for mommie and daddy!!!

    Third this movie isn't all that symbolic or metaphoric why does the director need to explain to a bunch of ignorant' s the meaning of selling out under the guise of protection and ending up with your whole society exploited and the sacredness of family destroyed? Duhhh I just watched a guy get exploited for his talent and then drugged when he didn't want to play ball and he ended up loosing everything including his sanity, gee what does it mean george!!! And when ever in the film did the main character ever express any coolness or delight in any of the acts the elitists wanted him too perform?

    My summery of a Serbian film would be governments participate in things even a porn star wouldn't do. So next time your having a head of joe in front of the tele and you see a kid being exploited by gov. to make war seem sexy remember how disgusting things will get cause you saw the out come you saw A Serbian Film! Thanks to the director for having the balls to bring out a point that even reporters have been killed to try and convey!

  • Mike Tucker | December 12, 2011 12:45 PMReply

    WE cannot believe that you made a film that perverts and subjects children to the most darkest abuse and death...that you would even think about promoting this kind of inhumanity called "A Serbian Film" opens you up to all kinds of lawsuits and we will not stop until your film and film makers is/are exposed and shut down for distributing child porn.

    Child porn is a federal offense and you are distributing it! We are contacting the FBI and all media groups about this matter and will strive to get you convicted before criminal court for felony child porn distirbution.

    You think you did something cool and controversial ! haha your film is a joke. No you are not cool or controversial.. and since your film has been released there has been multiple sexual crimes against infants and they are being traced to you and we are preparing a criminal case against.

    You are cowards of the worst kind.

    And you IndieWire that you would give a platform for this kind of madness masquerading as art is sick too.. you both are sick and you both deserve criminal prosecution.

    Mike T.

  • hmm | October 28, 2011 12:04 PMReply

    Well , you tried to get him to say more about the film's meaning but he is not budging .
    You should try asking some more detailed and tougher questions but maybe you are afraid to scare him off .