If A Serbian Film won’t make me sick, what will?

07/09/2011

I recently watched controversial banned-cut-unbanned-then-banned-in-South-Australia movie A Serbian Film. Having read an extensive description of the film’s content, months ago when I thought I might never see it legally, I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I like to stay informed. I was hesitant about watching it alone and it took a long time to find anyone with the ovaries to watch it with me – news articles about retailers refusing to stock it (I am now boycotting JB) means that its reputation precedes it.

With those reservations, the film itself comes off as rather silly. It’s a cartoonish exploitation movie that aims to push things as far as it can, but that’s a legitimate goal. Adults wanting to see it shouldn’t need to cite lofty allegorical messages to justify its content, and I find it odd that A Serbian Film‘s defenders are doing this. I didn’t find it shocking or particularly good, because it resorts to explicitly enacting things which would have more impact if they were implied or imagined by the audience, and it does so with fake-looking prosthetics which distance the viewer from the action and sometimes make it laughable. I wonder whether the cuts that have been made to the film already actually make it a better, more powerful film than the full version was. Nevertheless, it made me wonder if something was wrong with me, because I was disappointed it wasn’t more transgressive.

The screening of Snowtown I attended in June had around 20 walkouts, but I thought the film was excellent. Discussions I had afterwards, even among film professionals, was that the audience exodus was understandable. I was left feeling surprised that while the film has a strong emotional impact, I wasn’t particularly affected by the scenes that had others running for the door, and I must have been in the minority. The reason this was such a revelation was that I was sure I’d experienced similar feelings of nausea and visceral horror at films in the past. Why not this time?

Thinking back, it’s usually ideas in films that have horrified me rather than representations of gore. Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone, Lukas Moodysson’s A Hole in My Heart, Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell, Tim Roth’s The War Zone, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, and Patty Considine’s Tyrannosaur all contain ideas of hatred, cruelty and hopelessness that have chilled me to the bone. Even in The Killer Inside Me, it wasn’t the graphic violence that devastated me, it was the sadness of a woman telling the man who is caving her face in with his fists that she loves him, over and over again. I understand that most of the people walking out of Snowtown probably haven’t seen these films. But I’m really glad I have, and can. All the films named above are excellent, precisely because they do stay with you. If a film can make you laugh and cry, why not make you vomit or pass out? If cinema can reach out of the screen and do something to an audience physically, it has tremendous power. When a colleague recommended Sion Sono’s Cold Fish to me by saying “it made me want to throw up”, I was excited to see it. Maybe the ability to stomach violence on screen allows me to experience beautiful films like Von Trier’s Antichrist. That might make me a monster, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Edit: A Serbian Film just got banned again!

A Serbian Film (Uncut)

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One Response to “If A Serbian Film won’t make me sick, what will?”

  1. Mike White said

    This feels like the beginning to a larger piece. I hope you keep going.

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