Film Reviews, Long Review

Српски филм [A Serbian Film] (2010)


Throughout the world, or perhaps more accurately, the West, Srpski Film has been universally panned as a disgusting piece of exploitative trash masquerading as quasi-intellectual pretension. Even those critics who claim to be aware of the context within which the film enacts its satire and allegories often find it disgusting, but their knowledge of the context is  also often completely unsatisfactory.

I am a Yugoslavian, and a Serbian. I was born just around the time hyperinflation reached its absolute peak in Serbia, which still holds the statistical record for the world’s highest inflation. I haven’t lived in Serbia since I was 4, though I go at least once a year – it is on some level home, after all. I adore it. I love my friends, and I love my family, and I love my home. I love all the Balkans. I love Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo. They are all painfully beautiful places. With the exceptions of Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro, all these places were torn apart by war in the 1990s.

You probably think the film is disgusting and ugly. I disagree, I think it is actually fairly polite in comparison to the reality. And when you know the reality, which most of you don’t, then you might be inclined to agree with me. Most of you probably know some of the story behind how what once was the glorious nation of Yugoslavia broke up amidst a series of hateful wars, where neighbour fought neighbour and brother fought neighbour. It was a war that ought to prove to all humanity what a sick and disgraceful poison nationalism is, but in reality it was a war that simply exacerbated it beyond belief. And still, the West does not understand. Most of the European Union is now led by quasi-fascist parties along the line of Front Nationale and UKIP. Nobody learns, and people in the West (and yes, I’m generalising when I say the West, as some sort of mythical homogenous land where neoliberalism reigns supreme, but hey, read any news stories about the Balkans and you might realise that it works both ways) still don’t understand what it’s like to be a Former Yugoslavian.

They understand that the war happened, but few really understand how or why, and they understand even less about how to help. That’s why the Western powers did fuck all to help from 1991-1995 when the wars in Croatia and Bosnia erupted. The West insisted on an arms embargo across all the Yugoslavian nations that left the Serbian armies with all the firepower and the Bosnian Muslims with fuck all. Cue massacre in which the West pretends the only culprit was evil baddie Serbians, as if it couldn’t do jack shit to help. Then, a few years later, in 1998, when violence erupted again in Kosovo, the West finally decided to pull its fucking finger out and do something. But what did they do? They aligned themselves with Hashim Thaci, the first Prime Minister of Kosovo and current Deputy Prime Minister. He is also one of the most powerful men in European organised crime and a war criminal. The terrorist group he led during the Kosovan war, the KLA, is every bit as nasty, nationalistic, and awful as its Serbian counterparts. He is involved in organ trafficking. This is NATO’s boy in Kosovo. And still, nobody understands Srpski Film.

Today, the Prime Minister of Serbia is Aleksander Vucic. He has officially held power since last year but he has been the most powerful man in Serbia for a while. He is a former crony (sorry, Minister of Information) of Slobodan Milosevic, with whom the whole fucking mess started, and therefore a war criminal, if not by direct action then at least by association. It was during his time as Minister of Information that anti-Milosevic journalist Slavko Curuvija was murdered by the state, a murder that Vucic probably had something to do with. He was part of Vojislav Seselj’s ultanationalist fascist party until 2008. Seselj is another war criminal and he is a man whom The Hague doesn’t have the balls to proclaim guilty because they don’t truly give a shit about justice. He is, I believe, currently back in Serbia. There is a huge billboard in my home city of Nov Sad that proclaims “Serbia wants Seselj!” My stomach feels sick whenever I have to pass by it. He currently has cancer. I wish him a 1000 deaths.

Of course, desperate for power and tainted by ultranationalist connections, Vucic formed his own party, the Progressive Party. Same leopard, different spots, suddenly friendly to the European Union and perfectly happy to kowtow to neoliberal agendas that are currently economically decimating Serbia. Now he is the Prime Minister.

These are just a few purported events that have occurred in the Former Yugoslavia since its breakup. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say facts lest men in dark Mercs start following me. The allegory in Srpski Film has frequently been dismissed as heavy-handed and serving only to lead to the grotesquely violent scenes, but this is simply untrue. The film is intellectually rigorous, with every scene serving to make a specific point, sometimes subtle sometimes not so much; from the sexually frustrated policeman to the pseudo-artistic porn director, every single scene with each character colours in another aspect of modern Serbian society. It’s far from perfect: outside of Milos (played by the magnificent Srdjan Todorovic), all of the characters are little more than ciphers for aspects of Serbia. To add to this, the flashback structure of the second half of the film, whilst intending to go for a Lynchian surrealism, is actually rather clunky and awkward, ensuring the second half of the film lacks a real sense of tension and mystery.

But within the context of modern Serbian politics and modern Serbian society, with bombed-out buildings still standing smack-bang in the centre of Beograd and war criminals leading our nation to friendly talks with Merkel and co. as to how to best sell off anything of worth in Serbia, the images of Srpski Film, the ones that so disgusted everyone – beheadings, rape, newborn porn – are really not that shocking. This is a film that is alarmingly close to the reality of modern Serbia, because when you have a war criminal leading the country then what the hell is a filmic interpretation of snuff porn compared to that? I love my home to absolute pieces, like I’ve already said. And I urge anyone who likes good friendly people, good food, cheap drinks and stunning architecture to visit Ljubljana, Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Mostar, Novi Sad, Beograd, Pristina, Skopje, Budva et. al. But beneath that remember that what lies beneath the surface is at times truly disgusting and awful, and the knowledge of this, I would argue, is what led to the massive nationwide riots across Bosnia in 2014. Eventually, some of us could not take it anymore, and we screamed. We are good people, a people that the West has, over centuries continually ignored and misunderstood, preferring to see us often as quasi-oriental foreigners mired in violence who just by accident of circumstance happen to live on the edge of the culturally ‘evolved’ half of Europe. Even in today’s politically-correct atmosphere and back-patting world of Guardianista identity politics, few people actually care to understand the reality of modern Serbia, preferring instead to act shocked and angry whenever our idiot football fans do some more racism. These modern Western intellectuals have an excellent habit of conveniently ignoring all of their own racism, and consistently refusing to see the sheer hypocrisy, the sheer fucking hypocrisy, of their own history and context. So I suppose nothing changes.

Srpski Film is an angry, furious, black scream into the dark void of modern Serbia. It is a film that is absolutely, utterly, 100%, necessary.


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