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Srpski film (aka A Serbian Film) Movie Review

Written by Miloš Jovanović

Released by Contrafilm

A Serbian Film Large

Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic
Written by Aleksandar Radivojevic and Srdjan Spasojevic
2009, Not Rated

Srdjan Todorovic as Milos
Sergej Trifunovic as Vukmir
Katarina Zutic as Lejla
Slobodan Bestic as Marko
Jelena Gavrilovic as Marija

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Welcome to 21st century Serbia. After nearly two decades of poverty, warfare and just about any socio-economical calamity known to civilized man, the small Balkan nation is finally hitting the road to recovery. The road, however, is long and perilous, and the transitional journey knows no mercy for those who are lesser off. Amongst them, we find Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), a semi-retired porn actor who now enjoys a peaceful life with his wife and infant son. His retirement is partial purely because of the fact that on occasion, he's forced to do an odd "job" or two to make ends meet.

But times are changing, as we've noted, and the "jizz bizz" has moved along as well. A former colleague of Milos', Lejla (Katarina Zutic), introduces the old stallion to a promising new directorial talent, the enigmatic Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), who pitches an offer Milos simply can't refuse. In the beginning, it seems like a match made in heaven — fresh young helmer, realistic sets, realistic "action", a very much needed financial injection...until Vukmir starts to show his real self, and by that point, it might be too little too late for Milos to crawl out of the nightmare which has just begun.

For ages and ages, Serbian cinema has been hailed as one of the most art-worthy in whole of Europe. But, for ages and ages, all Serbians could produce were comedies and social dramas, the latter usually grabbing the international headlines. While the rest of Europe evolved, Serbian film stagnated and, even now, local companies are busy churning out similar genre fodder. However, we have seen notable shifts of power lately. Milan Todorovic and Milan Konjevic successfully broke the mould with last year's entertaining Zone of the Dead, and there have been similar efforts which signaled that something else was brewing in the Balkans.

But shit, we weren't ready for Srpski film.

Simply put, Srpski film is an experience so powerful, so intense, that the whole regional cinematic landscape is bound to change after this picture hits broader distribution. By now, you probably heard the news, the buzz, and whatnot regarding Srdjan Spasojevic's maiden effort — it has been reported that Srpski film literally leaves a trail of vomit in its wake, and, to be fair, it will be the most common reaction for an average viewer. But Spasojevic, along with co-scriptwriter Aleksandar Radivojevic, has crafted something much more complex than what meets the eye here. And if you manage to sit through it without hacking out a limb during some certain scenes, you will be rewarded with some serious food for thought and an array of sociological theories which will get your mental gears in manic motion.

What we are dealing here is a somewhat enhanced version of Joel Schumaches's 8mm, in which Nic Cage deals with a snuff movie-making ring. The basic premise for Srpski film is somewhat similar — a washed-up pornstar, known for his legendary sexual prowess (and endowment, shall I add), is pitched an offer of his lifetime which will seure his family for life. He accepts, he regrets, he tries to get out...it is not hyper-original stuff. Yet Spasojevic and Radijevojevic infuse the script with interesting regional freshness which leaves a rather bitter taste in your mouth, especially if you're familiar with the local situation. So instead of just ending up with a film with plenty of shock value for the sake of it, Srpski film is more-or-less a call to arms for a cultural crusade in Serbia, an event which, believe me, is much needed in this atmosphere. So while we can say that Srpski film builds on the same block where 8mm is located, one can freely assume that Schumacher's work barely just scratches the surface where its Serbian cousin goes straight for the jugular — and does not let up.

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The main character, Milos (author's note: mighty fine name that), represents here the face of Serbia. He was once glorious, but is now worn out and a shadow of his former self. Vukmir, played marvellously by Sergej Trifunovic (more on that later), is the modern reality, a self-proclaimed genius and artist with his vision obscured. He tries to restore Milos's glory through unconventional methods, claiming that he will make him great again. But Milos realizes that this not what is he most comfortable with. He rebels, and makes his voice heard. He does not bow down to the "new values", making him a hero in a way. With conformity not being an option, the price he pays is rather immense.

After an introductory thirty minutes, which are littered with iffy-sounding dialog and some character enfleshment, the real stuff starts. As soon as Milos appears on the shooting set, we see that Spasojevic does not intend to sugar-coat our experience. Now, I can claim I've seen pretty nasty stuff in my life, but the imagery in Srpski film is...well, not for the squeamish. Not even for the non-squeamish. Through the course of the film, you will lunge for the toilet at least a couple of times, as Srpski film features some of the MOST REPULSIVE on-screen violence in history of film (I kid you not). I will not spoil this for your viewing "pleasure", but let's just say that a brutal rape sequence which ends in a decapitation is one of the less shocking moments you'll witness. I believe many of you will wonder if that was all needed to drive the point home, but trust me — it is. I had the pleasure of having a word with the director after a private screening I attended, and as he pointed it out himself, "you read and hear about those things in the daily news. I'm not exactly discovering America here by bringing it all to screen". Point well taken. At any rate, the descent into inferno which Milos experiences is an utterly unpleasant collage of gruesome imagery, presented in an awfully realistic fashion.

The actors in Srpski film are a case for itself. First of all, it's worth noting that Todorovic and Trifunovic are all well-known and praised local actors — their presence gives this film an added significance, especially because both Todorovic and Zutic have plenty of X-rated scenes between each other, and frontal nudity is shown. Just imagine if they would remake this with George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and you'll get the idea why is this film so peculiar. Secondly, all of their performances are top notch. Todorovic struggles with dialog early on, and the first part of film is a bit unneccesary talky, perhaps this movie's sole flaw I could spot. However, once the action kicks in, Todorovic is in top gear, looking and acting absolutely primal and unbound. His facial expressions grow wilder and wilder as the film goes on, and generate an intense feeling of fear in the viewer.

Trifunovic, on the other hand, is just simply marvellous as the sleazy Vukmir. He also benefits from stronger scriptlines, which perfectly fit his demonic personality and create a truly evil aura around him. While Trifunovic has a rich resume behind him, I will go on record saying that his role in this film is a definite career highlight.

Katarina Zutic as Lejla and Slobodan Bestic as Marko, Milos's law enforcement employed brother, are solid supporting cast, but they are largely overshadowed by Miodrag Krcmarik, who appears as Vukmir's heavy Rasa. Rasa's character is a sight to behold — he's the kind of guy who you don't wanna meet in an ill-lit dead end without at least fifty commandos as your backup, and leaves you with a not-so-small degree of queasiness in your gut whenever he appears.

From the technical standpoint, Srpski film looks amazing. Spasojevic might be a rookie, but his craft is not questioned here. He creates a continuously tense atmosphere with his tight shooting style, perfect framing and an unique "feel" for the surroundings. The decision to shoot Srpski film in 2.40:1 aspect ratio must also be applauded, as Serbian movies in general have ignored this format — again, Spasojevic shows his skill here by mastefuly utilizing all the kinks of "the scope" and making his effort look supremely professional. Srpski film was also entirely shot with Red digital cameras, which give you a rather authentic 35mm feel without being 35mm. Red is an awesome weapon in hands of a capable director, and you can see the benefits of this device especially in many dark scenes — when black is really BLACK, you know that the desired effect is reached. The musical score, courtesy of a local hip-hop artist Sky Wykluh, is another standout. Composed mostly of droning electronic pieces, Wykluh's aural imagery succesfuly manages to crawl under your skin and cause you some extra shivers.

As a conclusion, I can state that Srpski film is the bravest piece of Serbian cinema ever since Goran Markovic's terrific Vec Vidjeno (which was filmed more than twenty years ago, so this is quite a statement on my behalf). While the picture will surely have its detractors due to its graphical nature, it will no doubt have its fans as well, and so it should. It is a cry for help from a nation which is direly in need, and it makes no bones in saying it so. I sure hope you get to see it.

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Movie: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
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The reviewer and Horror DNA would like to thank Contrafilm for the opportunity to watch Srpski film and, therefore, make this review happen.

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