Some people love it. Some people hate it. No one forgets it.
A Serbian Film has managed to spark debates all around the world. It makes you question whether freedom of speech is more important than censorship. It makes you question the definition and purpose of ‘art’ itself. It makes you question the depths that human beings can sink to. Has A Serbian Film gone ‘too far’ in its quest to be ‘artistic’? What is ‘too far’ anyway?
The film’s battle against censorship began, unexpectedly, in the post production process of transferring the digital footage onto 35mm film, with labs from both Munich and Budapest refusing to develop and hand over the prints because the material was deemed ‘against family and civil law’. Police were called, lawyers were called – and this was just the start of the controversy that would soon follow once exhibition to the general public was allowed.
The first few screenings of A Serbian Film included various festivals in Austin, Brussels, Novi Sad and Montreal, and these all went without incident. Although, during the 2010 Cannes festival one distributor found the film so disturbing that he had to leave but actually fainted on his way out, falling flat on his face causing a broken nose and a pool of blood. Things rapidly went further downhill from there as later that same year the popular English horror film festival, Frightfest, withdrew the uncut version of the film when Westminster Council ruled that it couldn’t be shown, due to ‘elements of sexual violence that tend to eroticize or endorse sexual violence’. Upon releasing A Serbian film on DVD, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has asked for a staggering number of cuts (49), making the film the most censored cinema release in Britain in sixteen years (since the 1994 Indian film, Nammavar).
The Sitges Film Festival in Barcelona (one of the oldest, largest and most respected film events in the world) and its director, Angel Sala, were charged with the exhibition of child pornography (?) after a screening of A Serbian Film in the 2010 festival – meaning that Angel Sala and the festival could have been facing jail time and/or a hefty fine if convicted. However, the charges were later dropped (thankfully) though the film was promptly banned in Spain and taken out of three other Spanish festivals.
Hostility towards this film continued as, despite being on sale in Norway for two months, A Serbian Film became banned in Norway due to ‘violations of the criminal law which deal with the sexual representation of children and extreme violence’. The Australian Classification Board refused outright to classify it, allowing no sales or public showings of the film in Australia. The film also became banned just before a screening in Rio de Janeiro, initially applying just to Rio, but afterwards the decision became valid throughout the whole of Brazil.
So what is it about this film that has caused such animosity?
Everyone from Roman Catholic organizations to anti-‘sexploitation’ groups have been up in arms about this 104 minutes of film footage, calling it vile and sickening and tragic and twisted. I think that perhaps a large amount of this criticism has come about not simply because the film is explicitly ‘sexually violent’, but because children are involved in this sexual violence (most notably for the scene relating to ‘newborn porn’, as well as a five year old boy getting raped by his father). This is something which, naturally, repulses everyone (or, it should do!) and seems irredeemable of good qualities. On the other hand, the director, Srdjan Spasojevic, claims that the film ‘is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government. It’s about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotise you to do things you don’t want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it’s about’.
Perhaps then, in order to fully judge and understand this movie, people need to look more closely at the culture from which it came from, the influences and emotions, the struggles and hardships, the complexities and absurdities, which all came horrifically together to create what is being hailed as the most controversial film ever made, A Serbian Film.