Controversial 'Serbian Film' returns to Austin for general run
Though its title might seem innocuous, the foreign-made horror movie "A Serbian Film" has shocked and revolted viewers around the world with its graphic depictions of rape, murder and pedophilia. The controversial movie opens today at a handful of U.S. theaters, including the Alamo South.
Tim League, Alamo Drafthouse CEO and co-founder of Fantastic Fest, has seen his share of gory, graphic and scandalous movies. So his proclamation that "A Serbian Film" is "one of the most disturbing films" he has ever seen should give any potential moviegoer pause. But League offers strong praise for the film, which tells the story of a retired porn star who, driven by a need to support his family, is lured under false pretenses back into the world of sex films only to discover that his new job will force him to confront the depths of human depravity.
"I was vaguely troubled by the subject material, but I really loved the overall film," League said. "It's a really trangressive film. It goes further than most films dare to even think of going. But it's not doing it just for the sake of being controversial. I really, really don't like films that are just being over the top for the sake of being over the top. For one, they bore me to a certain extent and also they're sort of childish. And this is not a childish film. This definitely has political context. Not that you have to have a message per se in a film, but I think it's clear the influence of this film and the experience these filmmakers had growing up in the regime that they did."
Audiences will have to sit through an onslaught of incredibly disturbing images in order to eventually piece together Serbian director Srdjan Spasojevic's intended message about Serbian society and the evil forces that terrorized that country for decades.
League first screened the movie in 2010 at SXFantastic, a series of Fantastic Fest programming that runs during South by Southwest. The midnight screening left many in the audience horrified, but also impressed.
"I think the film is tragic, sickening, disturbing, twisted, absurd, infuriated, and actually quite intelligent," Scott Weinberg wrote at the time on Fearnet.com. "... I admire and detest it at the same time."
The movie has caused controversy around the world. The British government cut out four minutes before it could be shown to audiences there. In Spain last year, the Catholic Confederation of Family and Student Parents lobbied the Barcelona public prosecutor to press child pornography charges against Sitges Film Festival director Angel Sala, who screened the movie at his genre fest. The outcry led to a judge prohibiting Spain's San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival from screening the movie.
Not all festivals have had the same reaction. "A Serbian Film" won a special jury prize at Portugal's Fantasporto festival. And locally on his website Ain't It Cool News, Fantastic Fest co-founder Harry Knowles called the movie brilliant and the "very best film" he saw at SXSW in 2010.
Though he recognizes the controversial film has a limited appeal, League says he has received many requests from genre film fans to screen "A Serbian Film."
"I think you have to be careful about who you bring to it. I wouldn't bring my mother; my wife's not gonna watch it. But if you're steeped in horror films and genre films and you're OK with controversial subject matter, I think this is one of the better films in recent memory that tackles very dark and disturbing iconography and does it incredibly well and incredibly artfully," League said.
The Drafthouse will screen the NC-17 movie, slated to run for a week, at 10 p.m. and only for viewers who are at least 18 years of age. League does not expect the same controversy stateside and makes clear that he programmed "A Serbian Film" not as an abstract political statement about free speech but simply as a sign of support for what he considers an excellent, albeit disturbing, movie.
"Part of the audience that I've tried to nurture at the Alamo — and we have lots of different communities at the Alamo — are moviegoers that love great genre film," League said. "That's why we put (Fantastic Fest) together; that's where I spend a lot of my energy. And I truly believe these guys are amazing new talents. From the writing, producing and directing team, they're amazing. We're supporting them because they're great filmmakers. I think it's a film that fans are going to be really glad they got a chance to see theatrically."