The roots of an idea for A SERBIAN FILM are located in a decade-long process of trying to rethink a way to communicate the political, moral and psychological downfall of Serbia through its almost non-existent Cinema. The screenwriter constructed the germ of that idea ten years ago in a storyline that would later become the basis for the film. Five years ago, we commenced a year of intense brainstorming process through which we developed a synopsis that dealt with pornography as the only possible metaphor for the almost indescribable and exploitive chaos that governs such a large portion of our lives. That synopsis soon turned into a detailed storyline that was developed into a screenplay three years ago.
The initial idea was to make a film which would incorporate our desire to make an honest and unflinching depiction of the political and emotional turmoil that governed our lives in Serbia during the last two decades of wars and transition, but also to merge that ambition with the wish to make a philosophical, confrontational genre film which would transcend those agendas into a piece of cinema that we had always wanted to make. We didn’t want to make a hermetic picture that would deal exclusively with our local tragedies, but to tell a story with global overtones, because Serbia is merely a reflection of the ways of today’s New World in general, as it tries to imitate it and fails miserably. Contrary to the peerless politically correct facade of the New World, it’s still a soulless devouring machine for killing every small freedom – of art and free speech – we have left, destroying everything different in its path.
After the script was finished, we embarked on a very tough and almost impossible journey of making the first truly independent film production in Serbia for the last three decades. The government and official cultural institutions were, needless to say, unwilling to help finance such an uncompromising project. A project that, unlike almost every film made here in the past 20 years, chose not to sugar-coat and pamper mainstream art film audiences and kneel down before European film funds in charge of embracing by-the-numbers politically correct films from Eastern European countries.
A small independent production company, CONTRAFILM, was founded for the sole purpose of making this film, and the tumultuous filmmaking journey was about to begin. For budgetary reasons, we decided to shoot the film on a RED ONE digital camera, knowing it is the closest to film stock these days, and we were very much satisfied with it. Our picture became the first in the region to be shot on RED. To our surprise, two of the greatest star actors in Serbia immediately responded to our screenplay and wanted to participate in this challenging project. The majority of the film crew felt the same, because they related strongly to the ideas and directness that we were aiming for. They recognized the honesty in dealing with suppressed emotions and problems we collectively feel as our own here. The shooting went as it usually does with almost any conventional low-budget art film, with the great dedication and meticulousness of the crew making it easier to endure. As long as we were left to our own devices and resources, the thing rolled on. But then, in post-production, we encountered some of the problems we were addressing in the film itself.
For months we struggled to get the film transferred to 35mm print because the labs suddenly reinvented themselves as censors and found themselves unable to perform their job when it came to our film. After the already-closed deal and the finished work on the prints in ARRI Lab Munich, the heads of the lab suddenly showed up, along with lawyers, managers and police-officers, and expressed their deepest concern dealing with the content of the film, and told us that they were unwilling to hand us the film-prints they’ve made. We found ourselves in an absurd one-of-a-kind situation that we’ve never heard of, trying to explain to the authorities that it’s only a movie, a work of fiction, consisting of actors and special effects. It obviously didn’t work and we were thrown out in the street without our film, which was about to be burned in the middle of a Free World. Thinking that we’d learned some new things about the way the modern world works, we tried to avoid a similar problem in the second lab we tried to print our film, Magyar Filmlab in Budapest, by showing them the film beforehand. They accepted. On the day that we came to pick up our prints, we picked up their strange letter instead, which said that our film broke Hungarian civil and family law and that they wouldn’t be able to hand us our film. So we ended up hitting the free streets of Europe again. Then we came up with the strategy of dividing the phases of lab work between a couple of film labs around Europe hoping to avoid further destruction of our film by making it impossible for the enemy to destroy everything, but only the last step in the printing process. Somehow we managed to put our film together and we got the prints a mere ten days before the already arranged world premiere at the South By South-West independent film festival in Austin, Texas. That about sums up the story of making it; now more about what’s behind it.
The major metaphorical take concerning this film was to treat real life as pornography. In our region for the last few decades we have brought ourselves to the point where we experience our lives as pure exploitation through which we are emotionally, psychologically and creatively raped by the incomprehensible, chaotic, unbelievably stupid and brutal forces of corrupt authority. Through every kind of job you can get in order to feed your family, you end up being viciously exploited and humiliated in the worst and lowest fashion. In this country, beaten and battered beyond belief by both the forces inside and outside of it, spiritual prostitution became the only real currency. We make the allegory of it all come alive by treating pornography as something casual and perfectly normal-our everyday life. The virus of that special kind of pornography has spread to every pore of our existence – political, cultural and essential.
Through our folklore, the erotic has always been naturally linked and intertwined with the violent. Violence comes out of our everyday pornography as much as it is the other way around. Together, the pornographic and the violent mix into a cocktail that we drink every morning as cheap breakfast. Through centuries, women and children here have been treated as a male property and, as their owners, we are allowed to mistreat them in the most inhuman ways and it all comes off as perfectly normal. This film serves not as a documentary depiction of our reality, but as an X-ray, a diagnosis of the malformed and disease-driven soul of our society. That is the reason for showing the almost unshowable scenes in the film in such unrestrained and direct manner. The violation, humiliation and ultimate degradation of our being must be felt and experienced by every viewer so that it cannot be ignored. Those scenes figure and communicate as literal drawings of our disfigured and raped emotions. You may call it torture-porn, but to us, it is our life. The scene with the newborn is the ultimate depiction of that – a life that has been raped before it has even begun; our meaningless existence that has been cut down at its core and used for the lowest commercial purposes; our innocence ultimately defiled and ruptured by our own crooked leaders and directors of our destiny. Leaders we’ve chosen who have driven us through countless absurd wars against our brethren during the recent past, and brought us to the nadir of our own existence and will continue to do so. The luckiest young ones who survive birth are brought into well-meaning but imperfect families, like the one we deal with in the film, that are doomed to end in despair of their own incapability to face their own reality. There are other families also, like the one that accepts the distorted national tradition of pimping their young for their own benefit – depicted in the film as the creepy but cheerful grandmother who offers her grandchild as a gift to our hero.
The futileness of our attempts to deal with our twisted reality and
change our destiny is portrayed through our hero’s journey to find out
what has happened to him and save his already lost family in the second
portion of the film. We always act and try to solve things when it’s
(SPOILER WARNING: THE FOLLOWING TEXT REVEALS MAJOR PLOT POINTS)
The second act of the film intentionally begins when the film is actually over and our hero tries to solve the puzzle through flashbacks after everything’s been done. At the crucial point, his mind has been distorted by a violent drug that enabled him to act out his inner destructive lust and rage and activate his repressed animal instincts against the weak at the whim of his leader. We used this particular narrative device to depict our casual and constant state of mind as people with regular distorted vision and deep and warm addiction to the drug which is regularly served by our beloved leaders through motivational political speeches and dreams of national superiority to ease off the pain of existence and subjugate us to their will. Accordingly, our hero will be forced to subjugate his own son during the finale and step into the vicious circle of corruption as a Serbian tiger who eats his young. In the final scene, the broken family desperately tries to cope with an unimaginable trauma and decides to treat itself to what it perceives as a dignified end, through collective suicide. Through the last images of the film we try to show that even the most radical form of giving up and checking out with any kind of dignity is impossible in our society. The next wrecking crew of demented authority is already there to pick up the last pieces of your shattered pride, to chew it up and spit it out for the hungry consumers to come. Your tragedy becomes irrelevant and your whole life-death journey through your own hell becomes a parody in its own right.
As much as we try to deal with our life in this film allegorically, and with the corrupt political authorities that govern it, we are also dealing with today’s Art and Cinema and the corrupt artistic authorities that govern them in a similar manner here. The films that preach and enforce political correctness are the dominant form of cinematic expression today. Nowadays in Eastern Europe you cannot get a film financed unless you have a pathetic and heartwarming ‘true story’ to tell about some poor lost refugee girls with matchsticks, who ended up as victims of war, famine and/or intolerance. They mostly deal with VICTIMS as heroes, and they use and manipulate them in order to activate the viewer’s empathy. They make a false, romanticized story about that victim and sell it as real life. That is real pornography and manipulation, and also spiritual violence – the cinematic fascism of political correctness. We can freely tag these pictures as compassion-porn, made to elicit lowest form of sympathy and compassion and therefore cheapen national, political and personal tragedies. As much as the pornography in our film depicts our lives, it also describes Eastern European cinema today – the pornography of a victim. The villain in our film is a filmmaker dealing with victims, and making ‘snuff victim’ porn. He is the symbol of compassion-porn Cinema today, using professional victims as protagonists, as exaggerated versions of sad Disney-like figures of victimization present in ‘realistic’ films these days. Maybe the all-too-immediate, direct and, some might say, obvious way of dealing with all those problems and taboos of modern society and art is what gives this film its real ferocity and power to disturb, which is the reason why some fear it and its ideas may turn one wheel too many in our dormant collective mind.
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