Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits his third favorite comedy of 2010, A Serbian Film.
Some films get a reputation, and even fewer deserve it — A Serbian Film is one of the latter. The film made a splash on the festival circuit back in 2010, and it was immediately a source of controversy for viewers and fun-haters alike. The extremely well-produced movie tells a grim, darkly comedic tale of ambition, regret, and the high price of edgy art. Director/co-writer Srdjan Spasojevic has suggested that the film is a commentary on life in Serbia, saying essentially (and metaphorically) that the country’s government ensures you’re fucked when you’re born, you’re fucked while alive, and you’re fucked when you die. Regardless, the end result is still incredibly entertaining, twisted as hell, and very, very funny.
Okay, I may be alone in finding the film humorous, but there’s no denying to my mind that its ridiculous extremes aren’t meant to be taken so damn seriously. Long unavailable in its truly uncut form — previous Blu-rays have been trimmed by a couple minutes — it’s been re-released by Unearthed Films in all its graphic glory. This time around, one of the extras is a commentary with filmmakers Joe Lynch and Adam Green, and the results are, well, different.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for A Serbian Film.
A Serbian Film (2010)
Commentators: Joe Lynch (filmmaker/fan), Adam Green (filmmaker/most definitely not a fan)
1. Lynch is a worldly fellow and has actually worked in Serbia more than once, but his ability to fuck up Serbian names is something truly special.
2. Jelena Gavrilovic plays the protagonist’s wife, and she also co-starred in Lynch’s film Everly (2014). He hired her on the spot once he realized she was in this movie. She also voices one of the sisters in Frozen — Disney’s 2013 feature, not Green’s 2010 film — via the local dub.
3. The film premiered at SXSW, and it was intro’d by director Srdjan Spasojevic, Austin’s favorite son Tim League, and five “lucky” audience members, all of whom squeezed lemon juice into their eye before taking a shot to simulate the painful experience of watching the movie.
4. “Family is a huge thing in this film,” says Lynch, adding that rewatching the movie since becoming a father to two kids has changed its effect on him in some ways. Happily, it hasn’t prevented him from enjoying some of the film’s darker sequences.
5. Green seems to suggest around the five-minute mark — via surprised compliments on the look of the film — that this is his first viewing? Oh my. Lynch adds to the praise for the visuals contrasting it to other so-called nasties like I Spit on Your Grave (1978) which has zero artistic merits as far as its cinematography, lighting, production design, etc.
6. It was filmed in sixty-one days and independently funded meaning Spasojevic had complete control, for better or worse.
7. A Serbian Film was originally set to play LA’s Fright Fest in 2010, but they were told to trim several minutes before it would be allowed to screen. The filmmakers instead canceled the screening as they didn’t want to compromise their movie.
8. The director’s favorite shot in the film hits around 30:31 as Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) walks out of his house. It’s inspired by a Sergio Leone film, presumably one featuring a character walking out of their house.
9. Lynch compares the film to both Bowfinger (1999) and The Game (1997) in the space of just two minutes. Bravo.
10. The girl who appears at 33:17 is the director’s daughter. “I’m so curious to talk to Srdjan about this,” says Lynch who’s convinced there must have been split screens or digital effects in play regarding some of the filming involving children. There most definitely was along with camera tricks, sharp editing, prosthetic figures, and more.
11. The festival director for Sitges was arrested on suspicion of child pornography for planning to show A Serbian Film.
12. Lynch saw the film on the big screen shortly before recording this commentary and was reminded how far it is from titillating. “Watching it with a crowd, it’s like my dick crawled up into my fucking intestines.”
13. References keep flowing from Lynch as he mentions both Paul Verhoeven and Pier Paolo Pasolini in how the film approaches sex and nudity. They are known for “using sex, not as titillation, but as conflict between characters” while also acknowledging as filmmakers that sex sells tickets. A Serbian Film takes a similar approach as while it’s filled with nudity you’d be hard-pressed to call it sexy.
14. Lynch mentions that Spasojevic has been unable to find directing work since his debut feature as it essentially left him blacklisted. “Well, yeah,” responds Green. Per IMDB, Spasojevic has a horror/western in pre-production, so hopefully that’s still on track.
15. Green starts to lose his shit around the 47:00 minute mark — as the teethy oral sex ends — but he quickly recovers. This is his first watch, and despite him having a sense of what’s coming I’m nervously excited for his upcoming reaction.
16. David Gordon Green and Danny McBride announced on April 1st, 2018 that they were remaking A Serbian Film. Odds are some people fell for the April Fool’s Day prank.
17. Lynch stops speaking as one of the film’s most infamous scenes begins and just enjoys Green’s reaction which is essentially this: “Oh my god. This is really gross. I mean, Children of Men did this, to some extent. [sigh] No. No, no, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. Come on. Oh my god. No. This is fucking awful. This is so bad. [sound of vomiting].” To be clear, Green is apparently sick during the recording from the flu, but still…
18. Lynch likens the three-day jump in Milos’ experience to the kind of mystery you find in a Christopher Nolan film as a man struggles to remember what’s happened to him, and it’s yet another concept that “elevates this movie above what you’d normally expect from just another exploitation movie.”
19. Lynch recalls working with a prop-maker while working in Serbia, and the man shared with him a bubble-wrapped item from A Serbian Film — “it was the baby.” Side note, that same baby prop went up for auction sometime in 2018, and the odds are pretty good that Lynch bought it on the down low for his private collection.
20. Speaking of props, I have to give a shout out to Lynch’s willingness to comment on the sound design of a certain infant-related scene. It’s a ballsy thought to share aloud, but more than that it’s a legitimate nod towards the craft and detail that went into the film. It leads Green to heave again, and I’m not going to quote it here, but mad respect.
21. Lynch believes the film’s third-act structure, the time jump through the flashbacks, “begs for a repeat viewing.” He sees it as the kind of writing and filmmaking that many would typically ascribe to a higher classed type of cinema, and he adds that it’s all in service of themes that wouldn’t be given a shot in a more traditional and grimy piece of exploitation. “The style of the movie is the sugar that makes the medicine go down.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“There’s a child watching this.”
“We’re watching some extreme shit here, and it shouldn’t look good.”
“There are things about cinema in this that are far smarter and intelligently laid out.”
“He’s the P.T. Anderson of porn.”
“Someone put a light meter to that?”
“This guy’s got issues.”
“Adam is vomiting while Arwen is humping the rat.”
“He’s holding his dick hostage.”
“What happens next is as brutal as anything that I’ve seen in a movie, ever.”
“Things are going to be a little complicated at home.”
“I have nothing left to throw up at this point.”
I’m not entirely sure if Green’s reactions — his very visceral reactions — are real or staged here, but they’re fitting for a first-time watch of A Serbian Film, and that goes for his dog Arwen’s occasional (and very squeaky) humping of a rubber rat during the recording as well. Either way, though, it’s an entertaining listen as Lynch’s enthusiasm for the film goes beyond a simple appreciation for the exploitative thrills. He talks about the craftsmanship, story intent, color palette, and more, and while he doesn’t see it as the hilarious comedy that I do, he appreciates it in smart, well thought-out ways. The film remains an unforgettable watch, and this commentary, whether or not it’s a bit, is an equally memorable listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.