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
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Extras: 5 featurettes and 3 filmmaker and cast commentaries.
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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
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.