A Serbian Film

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

08 September

Stephen Dusan declares himself King of Serbia, 1331

On this day in 1331, after a brief war with his father, Stephen Dusan, aged 23, tall, handsome, intelligent and of “kingly presence”, was crowned King of All Serbian and Maritime Lands. Also known as Dusan the Mighty, the king initiated Dusan’s Code, a legal and constitutional framework of governance, later established himself Emperor of the Serbs and Greek, and went on to conquer large parts of Southern Europe.

Under Stephen Dusan, Serbia became as powerful as it ever would be and acted as a bulwark against the advance of the Ottoman Empire. Also under Stephen Dusan, the local Serbian Orthodox Church became a Patriarchate (a stand-alone division of the church). This was, like his empire, short-lived, thanks again to the Ottomans, who had been encouraged into Europe by the Byzantines, sick of Dusan’s imperial ambition – the title “Emperor and Autocrat of the Serbs and Greeks, the Bulgarians and Albanians” was probably what did it.

On his death, under his son, Stephen Dusan’s empire crumbled and his church dwindled, though to this day he remains a Serbian folk hero.

A Serbian Film (2010, dir: Srdjan Spasojevic)

A Serbian Film starts with a grim kneetrembler, then pulls back to show that we’re watching a porn film which itself is being watched by a young boy. Then it pulls back again to reveal the boy’s parents discovering him, then again to show that the boy’s dad is one of the porn stars the boy’s been watching – Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), “the Balkan sex god, the Nikola Tesla of pornography”.

This is a canny opening to a controversial, brutal film that wears its artistic pretensions – voyeurism, scopophilia – on its sleeve and then abandons them when it gets into something far deeper and uglier. Porn is clearly a metaphor for politics in A Serbian Film, as the scene towards the end where “the perfect Serbian family” is served up in a way that is likely to leave scorch marks on the cerebral cortex. This is the country where everybody was fucked by their neighbours, after all. So of course the porn is grim and thankfully mostly off-screen.

A picaresque nightmare which actually improves towards the end as narrative is abandoned and director Srdjan Spasojevic surrenders to an impressionistic series of brutal images as his hero, “an artist of fuck” as a cajoling film producer calls him, is dosed up on Viagra and mind-bending drugs and pushed off into a stygian collage of no-holes-barred fuckery. Serve with a nice sauvignon blanc and some nibbles.

Why Watch?

  • After fragrant porn such as Lovelace – a palate cleanser
  • A bulletin from a country no one wants to talk about
  • Banned in New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Norway, Germany and Spain
  • “The fascism of political correctness” – its target, according to director Spasojevic

A Serbian Film – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2013

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