Cinematic taboos are a part of the film language. They can be harsh. They can be unrepentant. They ebb and flow depending on societal changes -- and sometimes become a mockery of themselves. Taboos are broken regularly, yet a select few cinematic outings go further than just, say, killing a dog when every other movie wouldn't dare. There are movies that set out to shock and go so far as to make the viewer marinate in their murk. In every way, A Serbian Film is one of those films.
If the movie had a smaller budget, no one would bother with it. The fact that the A Serbian Film was competently made speaks volumes as to why festivals took note of it, helping it to gain notoriety in the process. It is a complex tale of perversion that speaks of art, taste, and taboos in general. The film and its characters know how forbidden this material is -- and they confront it head-on. If you've heard of where the story takes the viewer, know that its explicitness ranges from incredibly graphic to implied in the most sober of manners -- which as it turns out, is both a blessing and a curse.
To understand the above, viewers must know a bit of what they are in for with A Serbian Film. In it, a famous European sex star is given the opportunity to set his family up for life by appearing in a new porno whose secrecy is so tight that even he doesn't know what the plot is actually about. Once involved, he's privy to a secret world that gets its kicks from highly outlawed material. Soon, the man finds himself locked in a fever dream of aberration, where he himself will unknowingly break down the walls of decency all in the name of "art." These are the tall-tale nightmares that are whispered of -- and, if heard, are righteously purged from most memory banks soon after they are uttered.
And what is art? One would have a hard time discussing A Serbian Film at length without bringing up that question. Not only does the picture take on that unanswerable issue, but its audience members are forced to reconcile their own feelings on the matter soon after watching it. The answer eventually lies with the viewer -- those most used to exploitation fare will do the best with the material. Again, it does help that there's a certain style to the piece -- which, if anything, actually cuts the shock value a bit since it's impossible not to forget that you are watching a piece of fiction. Not that the film needed faux-documentary shaky cam, but when one deliberately edits a film in a nonlinear fashion and fills it with over-the-top absurdity, that lends artificiality to the proceedings.
That may well be a good thing. For as horrible as it is, there's never a moment that can be mistaken as reality. At its heart is a story -- a bleak story. One filled with heartbreak amidst unimaginable horror. It is nearly a film for no one. Many will argue it shouldn't have been made -- that those taboo boundaries should never be crossed. Yet its gonzo violence will undoubtedly speak to small pockets of purveyors of tasteless drive-in fare entertainment. A Serbian Film exists, awaiting the next taboo-breaker to take its place. It might have a world gunning for it, but it did what it set out to do. Right or wrong, terrible or just, muddled politics or not, it exists -- we can only hope its subject matter does not.