When initial reports concerning A Serbian Film (Revolver) first emerged last year, the plot caused seasoned horror fans to scratch their heads in disbelief. The movie -written by Serbian horror critic Aleksander Radivojevic -tells the story of Milos, a retired porn star who finds himself agreeing to a demented Faustian pact with sinister filmmaker Vukmir.
Vukmir promises the hard-up star an exorbitant fee to star in an arthouse pornographic film, on the proviso that he doesn’t actually ask what the film is about. Despite his misgivings Milos agrees to participate in the project, only to find himself forced to perform a series of increasingly unpleasant sex acts, each one more disturbing than the last. The hellish sex game quickly spirals out of control, and Milos is forced to take drastic action to save both his innocent family and his corrupted morality.
The initial shock waves caused by rumours of A Serbian Film’s most graphic scenes were still reverberating when the movie was submitted to the BBFC for classification, and the board duly recommended a total of 49 compulsory cuts -meaning that 4 minutes and 12 seconds of the films original running time ended up on the cutting room floor -making it one of the most heavily censored films in Britain for almost two decades. Admittedly, while it is never particularly easy to stomach, A Serbian Film’s queasiness is made more palatable by the slick, eye-catching production values and willingness to convince you of its higher purpose. First-time director Srdjan Spasojevic displays an enviable visual flair, even if much of it is framed in the sleaze-drenched milieu of hardcore pornography.
Interestingly, whereas Lars Von Trier’s Anti-Christ saved its trump card for the end of the movie, A Serbian Film divulges arguably its nastiest moment in the middle, albeit in heavily censored form. Without giving away too many details, the scene in question involves a baby, and the uncensored images are still more upsetting than most. From thereon in the movie takes you further down Vukmir’s spiral of depravity, although thankfully you will feel numbed to much of it by what you have already witnessed. Too ridiculous to be truly horrifying, A Serbian Film nevertheless deserves its place in the shock cinema pantheon, and automatically brackets novice director Spasojevic with the likes of Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) and Virginie Despentes (Baise-Moi). Unfortunately, for a movie that ostensibly seeks to explore the indignities inflicted on the Serbian population, A Serbian Film will leave many viewers feeling seriously violated themselves. Powerful, traumatic stuff.
Ten years on from its original theatrical release, Kinji Fukasaku’s seminal exploration of government-endorsed teenage bloodshed -Battle Royale – has been re-released as a lavish three-disc box-set. Billed Battle Royale -Limited Edition (Arrow Video), the new package gathers together the original movie, a later director’s cut and a third disc of special bonus features. For anyone unfamiliar with the movie, the narrative unfolds in a warped version of future Japan, where the authorities have passed the ‘Battle Royale Act’ as a means of combating near-crippling levels of unemployment and the violent apathy of the younger generation. The law enables the Japanese government to dispatch an entire class of schoolchildren to a deserted island and pit them against one another in a vicious killing game -the rules of which stipulate that only one child will remain standing at the end. Perhaps most disturbingly, the game is presided over by disillusioned former schoolteacher Kitano (Beat Takeshi), who abandoned his profession after being shanked in the school corridor. What follows is a brutal satire about a world gone wrong, underpinned by director Fukasaku’s manic, itchy-trigger-finger style.
While Battle Royale’s scenes of child-on-child combat may not be as shocking as the repulsive imagery on display in A Serbian Film (reviewed above), the film retains its edge ten years on, and the carefree manner in which so many repressed school children embrace a life of violent conflict is still as vivid and disturbing as it ever was. Director Kinji Fukasaku – who was previously best known for helming a series of Yakuza movies during the 1970s -turned 70 during filming, and despite his advanced age the movie offers a surprisingly convincing window into the confusion facing Japan’s younger generation. Effectively an unhinged blend of Lord of the Flies’ naivety and A Clockwork Orange amorality, Battle Royale is relentlessly violent and darkly comical, and remains must-see entertainment. Although the superfluous additions to the director’s cut add little to the overall experience, the three-disc package is a solid offering, and a worthy addition to any DVD collection. Be warned, however, the new box-set is limited to 5,000 copies, so you will need to act fast if you want to snap up a copy.
Inspired by the best-selling non-fiction book of the same name, Freakonomics (Optimum) sees an assortment of North America’s best-known documentary makers join forces to explore some of the 2005 book’s most interesting ideas. Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) kicks things off with a snappy -if slightly throwaway -study of how a baby’s name can affect the child’s development. Paying particularly close attention to some of the more unique names within the African-American community, Spurlock keeps things fresh, and the material never grows dull. Although Spurlock’s stock-in-trade is breezy and engaging, he is actually beaten at his own game by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (co-directors of Jesus Camp), whose Can A Ninth Grader Be Bribed To Succeed? segment offers the most ‘real’ documentary experience with its focus on two disparate individuals participating in the scheme in Chicago.
More controversial is Eugene Jarecki’s eye-opening hypothesis on the reduction of crime rates in the early-90s. Narrated by Melvin Van Peebles, It’s Not Always A Wonderful Life is a bleak counterpoint to the jaunty material elsewhere, and draws some surprising conclusions. For me, the weakest segment of the film is Alex (Taxi To The Dark Side) Gibney’s examination of corruption in the principled world of sumo wrestling. What begins as a quirky investigation into an unusual subject outstays its welcome and ends up clumsily linking the subject matter to that of Gibney’s earlier film (corporate corruption), with some unfortunately broad conclusions. Despite some clumsy scenes, on the whole Freakonomics is a well-executed, reliably entertaining compendium from some of the leading lights on the US documentary scene. Although it is well worth watching if you have enjoyed the previous documentary work of the directors involved, Freakonomics is rarely as inspired as the films that they made their respective names with