Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eat, Pray, Retch


Virgin Viewings for the Month of August.


The Human Centipede (First Sequence)


What to make of a film where medically suctioning mouths to anuses seems old hat? Such is director Tom Six's already notorious story of a mad scientist hellbent on witnessing ultimate degradation by melding three bodies together to walk, eat, shit and die as one. Is Dr. Heiter merely a staunch believer in team sports, or did he just have too much time on his surgically-skilled hands?


The Human Centipede: First Sequence was bound to be a minor sensation in this Internet age. The concept seemed written in the stars -- or rather a gutter filled with needles and used condoms. Pure, excessive filth made for impure, simple thrills. It's a joke fit for a college dorm, a vulgar cartoon drawn on a bar napkin, "2 girls 1 cup" stretched to feature length. So why is the eventual film such a slog to get through? It's a wonder when the audience is left to say, "Get to the shitting already!" Vulgar films breed vulgar viewers.

It's almost like Tom Six knew that concept was enough to get twisted viewers in the door and keep them there. The rest of the plotting is as tired and worn out as the three lead characters after a long day of crawling around, defecating in tandem. Once our lead females (a truly dim duo of tourists) have car trouble in the backwoods, there's a sinking feeling that the film's thin conceit will remain just as thin until those obligatory shock scenes. Six's direction is detached and clinical, even somewhat restrained considering, but therein lies the problem. It's an exploitation film that wants you to purge in disgust, but rarely revels in its own shit -- no matter how much that shit is central to the plot. The film's central mad doctor (Dieter Laser) is delightfully odd and depraved, but the rest of the horror is inevitable rather than immersive.


This doesn't seem to be a Salo-like affair; there isn't the subtext or social commentary, or if it's there it's been diapered, bound and gagged more than the film's scientific monstrosity. Perhaps the impending sequel, The Final Sequence, will realize the strengths of its shock concept by not relying solely upon it. When all is said and done, The Human Centipede isn't awful, but it sure as hell should be.


A Serbian Film (Srpski film)


What sort of film could make The Human Centipede seem almost life-affirming? Leave it to some angry Serbians named Aleksandar Radivojevic and Srdjan Spasojevic, and their ode to family, snuff porn, and the intense urge to die. Cinematic therapy or cinematic torture? You decide, if you have the distaste to experience it -- or ever forget you've experienced it. In fact Centipede's central gross-out hardly measures up to the heinous acts that occur in A Serbian Film. To list any of them would destroy the film's primary merit and reason for viewing: It's fucking sick! And I put that as eloquently as this film would.


The basis is that a family man and retired porn thespian, Milos, is called back to the biz for a suspicious new project that promises to show the "art" in pornography. If he can keep it hot and hard, he gets tons of cold hard cash. The catch (there's always a catch when you're in Serbian snuff porn) is that the film's content will remain unknown to him. Needless to say his unspoken project ends up being unspeakably horrifying. You have to admire when a film builds to a character literally holding his own penis hostage.


For at least four or five of its many incendiary moments, I was genuinely repelled. As someone who seeks out this reprehensible breed of cinema, A Serbian Film still manages to pack a hateful punch. It's that rare breed of shock cinema that will gain a long lasting reputation -- like Cannibal Holocaust, the Nekromantik films, Irreversible, Salo, August Underground, and countless other films that aim to punish viewers into dying just a little inside.

I can't say A Serbian Film is as great (or awful) as a few of those, but it does include some of the most grim and vile acts ever witnessed on-screen. Some are done with skill, others are quite laughably obscene. Given the occasional shoddy prosthetic or sheer extremes of the content, I did laugh once or twice. Inappropriate behavior for a truly inappropriate movie. The most infamous scene -- which sets off a string of infamous scenes -- is also perhaps its least convincing. Known lovingly as "Newborn Porn" (the next great thing we're told), it's a scene so pointedly awful, and so pointedly cheap, that it cannot be taken as seriously as the act itself should merit. It's also worth noting that Milos (while wonderfully performed by Srdjan Todorovic) isn't really sympathetic. He knows full well that what he's getting involved in will be beyond despicable. What exactly is the best case scenario for a secret, underground Serbian snuff film? But in the end, A Serbian Film never aims to be sympathetic.


After Milos walks in on his son watching one of his own porn films, his wife lends the support, "It's a cartoon for the grownups." I feel somewhat similar in describing A Serbian Film. It's so over-the-top, excessive and aggressive toward the world that it exists in some sort of heightened state. It offends and it wants to. There's rape (to put it very lightly), murder, abuse, and it's all compounded to make the audience feel absolutely miserable. The creators claim it's all a metaphor toward the current state of Serbian life. I can accept that, whether or not I feel that at all justifies the literal translation into sodomizing mothers, infants and the deceased. In any case it works as a full on assault, and the filmmaking is more adept than one might anticipate. It's skillfully paced, wonderfully scored, well-acted, and the tone is manically vicious when it wants to be. Just as the snuff film director has his strange discussions about what is "art," so will viewers upon approaching A Serbian Film. If art is meant to provoke, then this is art. Icky, depressing art covered in blood, bruises, genitals and socioeconomic unrest.

3 comments:

JA said...

Dammit dammit dammit Adam! I'm going to have to watch ASF at some point, aren't I? UGH. I'd hoped after Rich at FourFour wrote it off that I could just forget about it but now you done gone and made me think it's one I'm gonna have to suffer through. THANKS. (dammit)

Adam said...

Rich's opinion was pretty agreeable to me, even if I give the film a bit more credit. His line, "Don't let your metaphor rape a baby," seems very apt.

I wouldn't dare say I liked "A Serbian Film," but I knew my curiosity would never end without me seeing it for myself, and it's not bad filmmaking. I have a pretty strong stomach toward anything outside of animal violence. Graciously no animals were harmed in the making of "A Serbian Film" (although something with a donkey is implied), only everything ELSE despicable happens. It's not a case like "Irreversible" - which I feel ready to defend as a standout movie - so enter at your own risk. And you leave your sense of taste and value systems at the door!

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