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A Serbian Film is something else. People become not only objects to be fucked and killed in the same deft motion but identities to be rendered meaningless. The film depicts victimization as a cultural product of fundamental human desperation and despair. Satisfaction is derived not from the pleasure of bodies but from their usage and disposal. This is the fetish of nihilism, beyond sex, perhaps beyond even violence — annihilation for its own sake as the last kinky thrill.

Don't look for A Serbian Film: Part 2 — there's nowhere left for a sequel to go. And perhaps there is only one place the original could have come from. In its blistering vision of nihilism as entertainment, A Serbian Film seems, well, uniquely Serbian. Not unlike Pier Paolo Pasolini's legendarily infamous Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (whose monstrous perversions are set in Fascist-occupied Italy), it suggests that cultures undergoing national devastation fetishize trauma or fail to integrate emotionally, winding up with numbness, not sensuality, as their primary mode of sexual expression. Serbia, given its history of political dissolution, ethnic cleansing, and relentless hardship, knows the effects of trauma well, and the country's films are venturing into "new extremism" — a European-bred horror genre whose aim is not funhouse titillation but a full-out assault on the body and psyche.

New extremism first made its mark in France a decade ago; notable highlights were the gut-wrenching Irreversible and Martyrs. But the French contributions to the genre seem rooted in a philosophic tradition of existentialist dread — think Samuel Beckett via Grand Guignol. Serbia's version, on the other hand, is more literal: the subtext of continuing societal upheaval — of Miloševic, of lost collective identity — is omnipresent, and A Serbian Film's transcendent sadism admits the tragic necessities of survival while expressing moral outrage at the perpetual suffering that makes merely surviving so unbearable. Vukmir explains his project this way: "The flesh and soul of a victim transmitted live to the world who has lost all that and is now paying to watch that from the comfort of an armchair. You, me, this whole nation is a victim."

Serbian cinema has tackled on-screen degradation head-on since the late '60s, probing life as daily struggle in a wasteland. Recent examples include The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009) and the documentary/black comedy Made in Serbia (2005), both about dark pornography.

Serbia's forays into new extremism should hit a nerve in America, too. As our pop-culture entertainment increasingly plays with the line between fantasy and reality, creating a landscape rife with victims on parade as a national pastime, of "reality TV" and amateur footage, the potential for authentic dehumanization that only pornography once appeared to represent is now real and spreading. The film within A Serbian Film casts a grim light on our flirtations with "controlled" reality and fears about where experiments might lead.

The final scene and line of dialogue summarize the endless cycle of exploitation that's the movie's true subject. Listen closely as you're told that everyone can be used — and reused. Yet though A Serbian Film is about nihilism as entertainment, it is also wary, from a humanistic perspective, of such approaches. Not conventionally "entertaining," it is a jolting, cautionary ride for those willing to get on board — or attempting to get off, as the case may be.

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  Topics: Reviews , film, Film reviews, Horror
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1 Comments / Add Comment


This is a fantastic review. Intelligent, thought-provoking, well-written. I probably won't ever see "A Serbian Film" (a little too extreme for me, and I have watched some pretty depraved stuff), but it's nice to read such a well-considered deconstruction of the film and its themes.
Posted: May 26 2011 at 2:12 PM
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