Is film art internationally banned or trash?

A Serbian film is a graphic horror film, so please note that this article contains references to content that some may find disturbing.About a year ago, a popular image of a horror movie iceberg graphic broadcast Reddit and Twitter. Each level represents a number of horror movies, starting with the sky and a smiling snowman, all the way to the dark depths of the ocean and the enlightenment meme (sharp sarcasm). The very first level, which is still in the sky above the actual exposed section of the iceberg, features beloved classic horror films such as the ring, Nightmare on Elm Streetand The Grudge.


The second level, or the part of the iceberg that sits above the surface of the ocean, features more controversial films like The human centipede, Defenseand The hills Have Eyes films that many casual horror fans avoid due to their explicit and nauseating notoriety. As the movies descend into more brutal scenes, graphic scenes, and twisted themes, the levels darken and the stick figure sports a frown and a scruffy beard. Apparently everything listed under the fourth tier are snuff movies; that is, the violence that is portrayed actually happens. Most are even illegal to watch.

A Serbian film

Milos standing in front of a woman who crawls towards him in A Serbian Film.
Unearthed Films / Contra

A Serbian film (2010), co-written and directed by Serbian director Srdjan Spasojevic, is appropriately set in the third level, just below the surface, alongside a frowning stick figure with shaggy hair, accompanied by the films cannibal holocaust, suicide cluband Salo or the 120 days of Sodom. Spasojevic, who also directed the “R is for Removed” segment of the horrific anthology The ABCs of Deathcreated a film about a once-popular former porn star named Milos (Srdjan “Zika” Todorovic) who was lured out of retirement by the promise of large sums of money the money his family needs.

The plot circles as Milos is repeatedly drugged and threatened, forced to commit gruesome and brutally violent acts of physical and sexual abuse against non-consenting participants, many of whom are children. The scenes are terribly graphic, and the movie is banned in 46 countries. In order to even receive an NC-17 rating in the United States, they actually had to cut one minute of film. Undoubtedly gratuitous violence aside, it is nonetheless a visual medium that serves as socio-political commentary. The means by which Spasojevic conveys this comment, however, is rightly controversial. East A Serbian film truly a work of art, or does it deserve the widespread vociferous public denunciation it has faced?

A political outcry

Milo's Executioners Smile At Him As He Goes Crazy With Drugs In A Serbian Film
Unearthed Films / Contra

Contrary to popular belief, A Serbian film is not just violent for violence’s sake. However, one could certainly argue that there is violence beyond what would be intentional; the level of brutality is obviously overstated in part for the shock value. Although it might not be so obvious to Western audiences, the film has a purpose. Spasojevic has described his work as a “family drama” that spirals into a nightmarish tragedy, but the story also serves as a political allegory that highlights the struggles Serbs faced following the political upheaval that ultimately made s collapse of Yugoslavia.

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Prior to its tumultuous dissolution in the 1990s, Yugoslavia occupied much of the Balkan Peninsula, or the Balkans, of which Serbia is at the geographical heart. This region experienced tension throughout the 20th century, as it was a sort of physical buffer zone between Western Europe and the Soviet Union. When nationalist president and eventual war criminal Slobodan Milosevic came to power, this tension reached breaking point, leading to domestic unrest.

Milosevic betrayed his nation and was responsible for starting the Yugoslav Wars, ethnic conflict and a mass exodus of Serbs from their country of origin. Milosevic, who controlled the state with heavy propaganda, attracted hatred from neighboring nations, towards other ethnic nations, and internal hatred which Serbs directed towards their own government. The vast majority of Serbs felt a strong connection to their Yugoslav roots. Those who remained in Serbia still felt displaced.

Serbian film Milo shirtless and covered in blood stares down woman
Unearthed Films / Contra

Historically, the term “rape” was defined as “an act of plunder” and “violent seizure”, usually referring to a place (a definition this is yet another dehumanizing aspect of violence against women). During his rule, Milosevic carried out a rape of the land, leaving Serbs without any sense of national pride or identity and subjecting them to aggressive external prejudice. They were totally isolated from others and from themselves.

A Serbian film can be interpreted as an extreme dramatization of these events, depicting graphic scenes of literal rape as a representation of the plight of Serbs and Milosevic’s rape of the land. Just as the nationalist Milosevic grabbed and rebranded the Serbian identity, Milos’ kidnapper injects him with drugs, robbing him of his bodily autonomy and forcing him to commit atrocious acts he would otherwise refuse in abject horror. Under the influence, Milos relinquishes full control, and thus his own sense of identity is destroyed.

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Because he has no control over his own actions, Milos is also violated; he cannot consent to the acts he participates in due to his altered state. From an outsider’s objective perspective, Milos, like Serbia, appears to be responsible for its own actions, when in reality those actions are not really its own. The violent nature of the film is the manifestation of the desperate and angry outcry of a Serb. It is a plea for justice and for the freedom of autonomy and identity. Whether or not this film is considered a work of art, it is far too well thought out to be considered “trash”.

A surprisingly well-structured story

It’s no exaggeration to write A Serbian film as gratuitously violent. The scenes far exceed the cringe-worthy violence typical of gore-centric horror films (as exemplified in the first or two levels of the aforementioned iceberg). As has been established, the film is banned in dozens of countries around the world due to the nature of the acts of violence committed. One scene in particular, which involves a newborn, enraged a lot. The scenes include a number of rapes, including that of minors, and even cases of necrophilia. BBC Radio 5 live‘s Mark Kermode said the film is “a filthy piece of exploitation trash”. The original film was not available in the UK until four minutes was cut.

Milo watches someone close-up in A Serbian Film
Unearthed Films / Contra

A Serbian filmhowever, does not in any way glorify or fetishize exploitative pornography quite the contrary. In fact, Milos is living a total nightmare, a point that is underscored by drug-induced dream sequences in which he and the audience question his ability to perceive reality. What begins as a way to support his family in times of financial hardship ends with the total destruction of his family as a result of his exploitation.

Perhaps A Serbian filmThe saving grace of is its dedication to conveying a gripping story from start to finish. The stakes are high and there is a clear plot. It’s not just an hour and 44 minutes of simulated snuff film; Milos is sympathetic, enduring significant and irreparable trauma from which he is unable to escape or protect his wife and young son. He is a victim of necessity. This movie isn’t just an excuse to stage shocking violence; it is a brutal contemporary tragedy.

Watching this film, there are a few moments where you wonder: “Was it necessary? The answer is probably no. There are obviously ways to make great films about 20th century politics without graphic violence, and perhaps Spasojevic goes beyond the level of violence necessary to exert his main point. While the scale of the violence may be unwarranted, Spasojevic’s work is not trash. He manages to craft a well-developed and sympathetic allegory amidst the horror he has established. In the objective sense, A Serbian film is a work of art. Whether the film is a masterpiece deserving of widespread recognition, however, is a separate argument.

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