We're back with the second half of our discussion with the filmmakers who brought A Serbian Film to this year's SXSW Film Festival. You can brush up on the first part here. As I said before, I had the opportunity to speak at length with screenwriter Aleksandar Radivojevic and first-time feature director Srdjan Spasojevic about the impact their film had at the festival, and continues to have on Twitter, and in comment sections and message boards all over the Internet. I didn't catch all of it the recorder but they did warn me ahead of time that they had been drinking. I say that only to explain the picture, as their thoughts were all quite lucid. These guys simply loved movies and knew how to have a good time.
Here's what they had to say:
Horror Squad: So what do you hope that audiences will take away after seeing your film? Both Western audiences and then at home in Serbia, I have to assume it's a different situation ...
Aleksandar Radivojevic: We are absolutely excited about the reaction of the people here. The people here have reacted in the exact right way. Because we wanted to make it a visceral experience. We wanted a kick in the gut, we wanted that. We wanted to make such an effect, people as viewers have become very desensitized. They need to be shaken. Art in general has to have more impact, has to have more real impact and ideas behind it. It has to kick you in the gut. These days you cannot just tap somebody on the back in order to get him to listen, you have to hit them with a mallet. It's a way of getting someone's attention and the possibility to communicate all the things that we want to communicate to people.
We wanted to say some things that have been torturing us. All those emotions that have been suppressed, they have to explode. We did it in the most radical way, because we think the pushing of boundaries is something that is needed for contemporary cinema. We need to think more in the way of, let's go through that door, let's go beyond that door, lets jump through that wall. Let's go further, explore, let's explore more things. You want to almost possess the viewer with the images you're using. That's a mostly forgotten quality of cinema. Nobody uses that anymore. Cinema has to have that kind of impact. You have to imprint yourself into the mind of a viewer in the most radical way, and those are the films that we most appreciate, the films that leave that kind of radical impact. But also, the movie is exactly that ferocious because it came from all those suppressed emotions about our own lives and about our own failures and hopes and our own inability to express ourselves in the most normal way.
HS: Obviously you know that's going to be one of the main criticisms that people have of your film is the intensity and the extreme violence ...
AR: Absolutely, we are prepared for everything.
HS: but do you feel like could have made the same film maybe not showing as much maybe implying more things? Talk about how that would have changed the film you were trying to make.
AR: You expect to show people something through suggestion and they're going to like get it? No, no people are not going to get it. People are too desensitized these days to get it. You have to draw [it for] them. You can't be too literal these days. You have to draw it, this is what's happening. I'm more from the early Clive Barker way of thinking, you know that you have to show it.
Like there's very much a difference in the first version of The Thing and the John Carpenter version of The Thing. In the first film you have a man in a suit who's doing I don't know what and in the remake you get all that incredible stuff that is imprinted into your mind for years afterward. Maybe it's a little bizarre to compare our film to The Thing because it's a fantastic film. And it's a fantasy kind of film and we're dealing more with reality in such a way. We're trying to draw you a direct metaphor of what is happening to us, like we are the [character from an oft-spoiled controversial scene]. They throw you away, not in a personal way, but in a metaphorical way. Like we all have very normal families. We are not some psychos. And it's really a way to communicate an idea in the most impactful and radical way. People are too literal these days so you have to be even more literal.
Cinema and art itself is supposed to be a game, you have to play. Kids sometimes are pretty ferocious in their games. They do some things that are disturbing, and it's all in the play. Creativeness comes from play, you have to play with the elements, you have to go further there. Because it's only a play, it's only a show that is trying to communicate something to you. I don't think there's really a problem because it is a puppet. It is a puppet but in a way that puppet can be used as a weapon when you show it like that and that's the prerogative we're very happy to use in order to communicate our idea.
HS: Obviously you made a really personal film. Do you feel that on the other side of this after having made it, has it affected you? Do you feel like you're a different person coming through on the other side of this film?
AR: Absolutely, because this was a film that was waiting to be made for so long. I had the idea in my head for so long. It was even more radical 10 years ago. It was a very Cronenberg-ian idea and then through time it developed to this, what we have right now. But 10 years ago it was absolutely impossible to do anything in Serbia. It was after the Milosevic regime and it was total chaos. But now things are starting to get better in a way that you can do some things. Now this is a totally independent film. This was not funded by government in any way or anything. But today it's easier to make films through digital techniques that are more accessible these days. That was impossible about 6-7 years ago in Serbia. And ... what was the source question again?
HS: That's OK, do you feel like you've changed, do you feel like you've been affected coming through this process and now being on the other side?
AR: Absolutely, it's like you had a kid. That's a good metaphor. Every film, everything that you make, everything that you've written is in some way your child, it's your own child. You watch your child's first steps or something like that. It changes you in every possible way. You want to follow that child and see what is going to happen to it.
HS: Would you ever consider making another film with such extreme imagery, such a personal stance?
AR: Absolutely, for us that's the only kind of film that matters. It's personal, gutsy and vital cinema, that's what we want to make. And personal not in some kind of a pretentious way, but personal in terms of exorcising some of our personal demons. And that's projected on something that's a more global idea. We want to make this kind of picture not in the terms of just ferocity but in the terms of something that's personal and gutsy and punchy ...
Srdjan Spasojevic: In terms of Chuck Norris.
AR: Yes, one of Srdjan's earliest idols is Chuck Norris with his Cannon t-shirt.
HS: If you had children and they came of age and were ready to watch the film and deal with it, what would you hope that they would take away from seeing this film? There's a lot to do in your film with the generational divide and kind of the sins of the father type of situation ...
SS: The kind of Alice in Wonderland character is my sister.
AR: Yeah, it was Srdjan's sister. And she was totally excited to be in the film. But kids never interacted with anything that happened on the set, it was all edited. But the idea we tried to communicate in the film is that the kids are the victims. The real victims are the youth. When they turn even children into monsters, you know like the girl in the film, she's already theirs, she's taken, it's like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers thing.
SS: She understands everything.
AR: She understands everything, and she participates in those kinds of crimes. She's trained to do that from her earliest stage.
[translating for SS] Her direction was "you're a part of the evil conspiracy, of the evil company. You're in the evil company and you're a part of that organization." In the film.
SS: So act like it.
AR: Be in a way totally soulless like it's an Invasion of the Body Snatchers things. Like you're stripped of all humanity and into some bigger machine, this big machine that represents the system. I think that's the most horrific idea in the film, that even the children are a part of it, in a way, they're trained to be a part of it.
[translating for SS] They're cheering for it. The children are like "let's go!" That's the horror of it.
HS: Yeah, it's terrifying.
AR: Yes, it's terrifying, absolutely, it has to be terrifying. It's certainly a little pessimistic. But I think it is healthy to express such pessimism through horror pictures, because horror is a much underrated genre but I think it's a great springboard for some fantastic ideas. And it hasn't even been explored yet, in its full effect. So we are trying to do that, we are trying to do something that hasn't been done. We are trying to push forward and see what happens there.
HS: Alright, last question guys. What would you want to say to Western audiences to help them understand some of the things about your film that maybe we wouldn't be as prepared for?
AR: We are actually very enthusiastic about the Western audience, because they understand it better than people in our country. We think that the Western audience actually understands the film better and [reacts] to it better. I don't know what your experience was with it, but we really think that the film resonates. And they don't have to be pretentious going into it, they can look at it as this one wild, ferocious ride. Like they're going to take a wild ride, and then they are going to think about it afterward. But they will understand.
We didn't want to make a hermetic film. We didn't want to make a film that's largely incomprehensible for other audiences. We really wanted to make a film that is largely very comprehensible. And we put some really personal stuff in it, personal stuff that we experienced in our own country. But we think it translates well to other countries. We think that all feelings of oppression and the horror of authority grinding you down, we think that's something that can be communicated [to others].
So that's what the filmmakers had to say about A Serbian Film. It was great to get to talk to them at length and get some more explanation about the thoughts and ideas behind the film. It's scheduled to play at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal in July, and if it does it should create quite a storm up there. If you're going to be up that way, definitely make it a point to check it out. I hope they're ready for it.