A Serbian Film (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) was a former pornographic actor who retired early. He had some savings but since he didn’t have a stable job, his family was in a state of financial difficulty. When Lejla (Katarina Zutic), a former colleague, contacted Milos about a once in a lifetime opportunity work with an independent director, Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), the husband and his wife (Jelena Gavrilovic), Marija, agreed that he should accept the offer because the paycheck would allow them to be set for life. However, Vukmir’s project was incredibly top secret. Even Milos was ignorant to what he was about to do in front of the camera. Based on the screenplay by Aleksandar Radivojevic and Srdjan Spasojevic, “Srpski film” managed to take the term “torture porn” on a new level. There was a plethora of scenes that depicted women as playthings. It showed them screeching out of pain from objects thrusted inside them, being punched in the face until their faces were swollen and bloody, forcing to perform fellatio until they passed out due to a lack of oxygen, and being cut into pieces with a machete. It was ugly and it was shameless in challenging us to keep our eyes open to see what would happen next. Supposedly, the filmmakers’ intention was to parody the movies made in Serbia. They didn’t like the forced political correctness that plagued the films in their country. So, by creating something that is so far from what is expected, it is an act of standing up against the mundane movies that are constantly being financed, made, and released. I understand their intention, but I don’t quite see how this project is supposed to be a parody given that there was nothing amusing about it. I was disgusted. I was shocked. I was disturbed. But laugh I did not. I thought it was very cruel to women. For a movie that was supposed to be progressive-thinking, the final cut was backwards. And it fails with a deafening thud. Furthermore, if the filmmakers’ intentions were completely taken out of the equation, I would still consider the film to be weak. Milos wasn’t portrayed as a responsible father and husband, in the least, so how could we root for him? His family was supposed to be struggling financially, yet it wasn’t shown to us that he tried to get a job anywhere. It was mentioned that he had an education. He wasn’t old, so why didn’t he seriously consider other options before accepting a cryptic job? The movie was about a half an hour too long. There were too many scenes when Milos was drugged and looking confused. He, as well as the audiences, were left to decipher what had happened to him through millisecond flashes of images accompanied by shrill, harsh sounds. Not only were the techniques an assault to the senses, it didn’t feel like being on a journey with Milos was ultimately worth it. He lacked pragmatism; he always happened to helplessly stumble upon one bad situation to the next. “Srpski film,” also known as “A Serbian Film,” directed by Srdjan Spasojevic, is a one-note mean joke where nobody wins. I welcome transgressive movies given that their ambition and intention meet a certain level of artistry that forces me to think about the power of the movies as well as consider possibilities of unexplored territory. Pascal Laugier’s “Martyrs” is an excellent example of a transgressive film. “A Serbian Film” is cheap and execrable.
O’ Horten (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Odd Horten (Baard Owe) reached the magic number 67, the point in which was to retire from his job as a locomotive engineer that lasted for over forty years. He wasn’t quite happy about the transition because his career was all he had. His friends (Henny Moan) were on the road which meant he wouldn’t see them as often. It seemed like he didn’t have a family other than his mother (Anette Sager) who was in a nursing home. It also meant breaking his coveted routine in order to find new and exciting turning points that served as reminders that life was worth living. Written and directed by Bent Hamer, the film’s greatest weapon in its arsenal was finding a great sense of humor in the mundane. Without an exact vision and a controlled direction, “O’ Horten” would have failed to gather enough emotional punch to get its audiences to care for Odd, ironically named because nothing too odd happened in his life up until his retirement. Instead of going for the easy laughs, it wisely chose to restrain. For instance, when Odd was locked out of the building, in order to reach the party his friends and colleagues threw for him, he had to climb the apartment building and sneak into a family’s home. Odd crossed paths with a child (Peder Anders Lohne Hamer) who couldn’t sleep. If the picture had been Americanized, I could imagine the main character being caught by the boy’s parents, suspected of malicious intent, and scrambled his way out of the apartment as he tripped over toys (or, since Odd was an aging man, maybe he would have slipped and hurt his back because older folks getting hurt was supposed to be funny). Instead, he didn’t get caught. There were no surprised parents and toys near the doorway that served as traps. There was only Odd staying with the boy until he went to sleep because the boy asked him to. As Odd sat on the chair, he was left with his thoughts. We didn’t necessarily know what he was thinking. He could be thinking about his retirement and what he planned on doing next. Or maybe thought about why he didn’t have a family of his own. The next scene was equally compelling. When he visited his mother in a nursing home, his mother didn’t utter a single word. But she didn’t have to. The drama was innately there. There was something heartbreaking about a son attempting to communicate with his mother but she didn’t seem to understand what he was trying to say. It reminded me of the times when I used to volunteer at Alzheimer’s care homes. Sometimes an unreciprocated affection is enough for us to become emotionally invested. “O’Horten,” with an inspired photography, had oddities but it didn’t allow the absurdities get in the way of shaping a defined emotional core. I think it’s something special when a film is set in a cold locale yet it’s able to exude immeasurable warmth.
Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Over the years I’ve grown to love the fashion industry so watching this documentary about the legendary Valentino Garavani was a real treat. I was fascinated with watching him handle situations when people did not quite reach his vision. That frustration sometimes ended up in heated arguments and sometimes they ended up with a joke or a simple snide remark. The passion Valentino had about fashion sometimes took its toll with the people around him, especially his long-time business partner and lover Giancarlo Giametti, but if it weren’t for his persistence and perfectionist nature, his creations would not have been the same. I liked that Matt Tyrnauer, the director, took some of the picture’s time to go back into the past and tell his audiences where Valentino came from and how he met some of the most influential people in his life. I was so engaged when the legendary designer talked about the many inspirations he had from films and movie stars when he was around thirteen years old. And when asked by a reporter if he dreamed about being anything else other than designing for women’s clothing, there was something brilliant and amusing with the way he said his one-word answer. I’m glad that this documentary didn’t quite focus on all of Valentino’s accomplishments (although I wouldn’t mind watching that documentary if one decided to take on the project). The majority of it was about his final couture show, which was beyond extravagant, and the media’s ever-annoying questions on when he would finally retire. I’ve seen a few runways and shows but nothing comes close to the elegance of his models, the ravishing sets, and the inspired clothings. Every image of the film looked like candy I wanted to touch and relish. “Valentino: The Last Emperor” would most likely not reach the mainstream because it’s geared more toward fashionistas. However, if one is generally interested in beauty, or even better, the passion and effort to make something beyond exquisite and divine, this is definitely the one to see.