Fantasia 2010 Presents SUBVERSIVE SERBIA!

Montreal, June 29, 2010.

Serbia's terrifying recent history has birthed a confrontational new generation of filmmakers who are using the medium to express their wounded psyches in ways the Western World can barely get its head around. Our spotlight, which we are calling SUBVERSIVE SERBIA showcases the key entries in this intelligently transgressive and politically-charged filmmaking scene. We're also going to showcase a string of retro Serbian genre films never before screened here, programmed in association with Dejan Ognjanovic and the Belgrade Cinematheque.

Beyond the screenings, Mr. Ognjanovic will be presenting a multimedia presentation and panel discussion - AN INTRODUCTION TO SERBIAN HORROR CINEMA - where he will be joined by the makers of many of the films showcased in our spotlight.

Your eyes are about to be opened. Wide.

"The voices emerging from the new wave of independent Serbian cinema are some of the rawest and most daring of any we've ever encountered," said Fantasia co-director Mitch Davis. "This is smart, confrontational filmmaking with astounding elements of shock, armed with the intelligence and the urgency to back it up. In particular, A SERBIAN FILM and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG are, to my mind, the CLOCKWORK ORANGEs of our generation. They push boundaries in ways that cinema rarely has the courage to do."

A SERBIAN FILM producer Nikola Pantelic issued the following statement: "To us, Canada is a very special place because it is the homeland of one of our favourite filmmakers, whose work greatly inspired us - David Cronenberg. We're honoured to participate in the Fantasia Film Festival - a place where a majority of our favourite recent films were screened. Montreal's Fantasia is one of the few places left on this earth where artistic freedom and unorthodox cinema thinking still mean something. Fantasia has made a Mecca for gutsy and vital cinema today. For A Serbian Film, things have come full circle."

The new blood:


Dir: Mladen Djordjevic - Montreal premiere

Hosted by director Mladen Djordjevic

This razor-sharp and often perversely comic metaphor about the social pathologies of Serbian life in the 1990s was a major hit at the Rotterdam Film Festival. A travelling "porno cabaret" journeys from village to village across rural Serbia, performing live sex acts in radical framings as a means of sexual confrontation, often provoking violent responses from the locals. Situations take a turn for the darker when the troupe are approached by a shady foreign war correspondent who makes them an offer they struggle against refusing--a ton of money in exchange for shooting actual murders, theatrically "performed" on willing, consensual victims who no longer care about living.


Director's Cut

Dir: Uros Stojanovic - International premiere

Hosted by screenwriter Aleksandar Radivojevic

A Serbian village has been so devastated by war that virtually all the males have been killed, with only women remaining. Two girls earn their living as mourners-for-hire --they cry at other people's funerals for money. When they inadvertently cause the death of the last remaining man in the village, the other women force them to go to Belgrade and find some fresh male flesh. They embark on the journey, followed by the ghost of their grandmother. An ambitious piece of eye-candy with a budget and visuals unprecedented in Serbian films, TEARS brings to mind a somewhat darker and more erotic Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Luscious period detail and costumes are blended with elaborate visual effects to conjure a unique fantasy environment for the fairy-tale plot, which uses the country's tragic past as a background for an ambiguously dark romance. TEARS FOR SALE is characteristically Serbian in its mixture of tragedy and comedy, road movie and fantasy, death and romance, and myth and reality, and it represents a fresh vision which effectively merges the local with the universal. Also typically Serbian is the central conflict -- obligation to society versus personal happiness, and the resulting clash between the individual and the communal, between selfishness and sacrifice. The film won raves everywhere from Tiff to Rotterdam in a highly reedited version in 2008, the original director's cut having never been screened to audiences outside of Serbia...until now. Fantasia will be home to the international premiere of the film's very different director's cut.


Dir: Srdjan Spasojevic - Canadian premiere

Hosted by Director Srdjan Spasojevic, screenwriter Aleksandar Radivojevic. & producer Nikola Pantelic

Milos, a retired adult film performer agrees to do one last film in order to sustain his impoverished family. But the first day of shooting is a bit strange. Then it gets weirder. When Milos decides to pull out, things go from bad to worse. And worse. Until they reach the unspeakable. A film firmly rooted in the frustration and despair of living in Serbia today, A SERBIAN FILM reinvents the horror genre to suit its own purpose, turning it into a powerful cinematic scream of anger and frustration. It offers a stylized version of what it feels like to grow up in a country humiliated, denigrated, impoverished, bombed-out, stripped of its territory, labeled genocidal and haunted by the spirits of war crimes. It is a scream against corrupt politics, both domestic and foreign; against limitations both internal and external; against being both metaphorically and literally f***ed. It is the ne plus ultra of shock, but this already-notorious content comprises only a small portion of the film. Its true power lies in its furious point-of-view, its shattered performances and its De-Palma-esque mise-en-scene. Scripted with eloquence by Aleksandar Radivojevic...who also wrote TEARS FOR SALE!


Dir: Aleksa Gajic

Serbia's first animated feature film. Edit is a smart, poised and exceptionally good-looking young psychology student in Belgrade in the year 2074. In addition to her studies, she works for a major scientific research firm. After failing her grueling psych exam for the sixth time, however, she decides to lower her ethical standards and have a black-market memory-booster chip implanted in her to guarantee a passing grade next time around. The chip is successful, but seems to have some strange side effects, and Edit is soon gobbling iron-supplement pills like an addict. Something is going on inside her, and whatever this mysterious condition may be, it is of great interest to the company she works for... TECHNOTISE is a feast for fans of Euro-sci-fi comics ? la Métal Hurlant. No surprise, as in addition to being a well-established illustrator at home, the film's writer/director is known across the continent for his comic books with prominent French publisher Soleil. His debut film is packed with delightfully distinctive and carefully drafted little visual details and devices.

The older blood:


Dir: Goran Markovic

VARIOLA VERA's title refers to the Latin name for smallpox, and it is loosely based on a real event. In 1972, in what was then Yugoslavia, an Albanian Muslim from Kosovo was infected with smallpox on his pilgrimage in the Middle East and upon his return to Serbia, caused an epidemic in the Belgrade City Hospital. In the claustrophobic environment of a quarantined hospital, a group of characters, led by Rade Serbedzija (EYES WIDE SHUT), try to survive the best way they can, and to retain their humanity in the process if at all possible. No one is safe in this bleak but also blackly humorous account of body horror infecting the body politic.


Dir: Djordje Kadijevic

Hosted by producer Zoran Otasevic

A HOLY PLACE remains a hidden gem of psycho-supernatural horror which audiences outside of Serbia have yet to discover. Since the film is not available on DVD, this is the only chance you'll ever get to see it with subtitles and on the big screen that its imagery deserves. This is the version of Nikolai Gogol's short story "Viy" that foreign audiences have barely ever seen--most have probably never heard of it. Unlike the rather benign Russian fantasy VIY (1967), the Serbian version is definitively for adults. The story is still about a reluctant theology student forced to spend three nights in a row locked in a spooky church, reading the Psalms over the (un)dead girl. All the while, supernatural forces are trying to grab him from the holy circle drawn on the floor. Gogol's half-humorous story is enriched into a more complex one, whose intensity is unique among other, tamer Slavic attempts at producing fear

T.T. SYNDROME (2002)

Dir: Dejan Zecevic

A group of young people in Belgrade are out to score some weed. They go to the Turkish baths within an ancient fortress to meet their dealer, but end up trapped there and mercilessly killed one by one by a mysterious murderer clad in black leather. It all seems to have some connection with the strange and very rare illness "T. T. Syndrome". With elements of Dario Argento and John Carpenter, T.T. was the first Serbian horror film that didn't feel obliged to justify itself with elements of more respectable genres. It does not imply a political allegory--although placing (and killing off) its youthful cast entirely in a public toilet might have been a statement about the dashed hopes of post-Milosevic Serbia, after all! But above everything else, the movie uses motifs and style of the slasher film, plain and simple, to scare its audience. It has attained cult status in Serbia.


(a special multimedia presentation and panel discussion)

July 14, 6 PM, EV Building, 1515 St. Catherine W.

Serbian contribution to the horror film universe is relatively small. And yet, what Serbian horror cinema lacks in terms of quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. It can be argued that more than a dozen of existing Serbian horror titles belong among the most original works made in this nation's cinema in the past decades, and they deserve to be wider known.

The panel devoted to Serbian horror films will be opened by Dejan Ognjanovic, film critic and author of the book In the Hills, the Horrors: Serbian Horror Cinema. He will provide the historical context and cultural background for the emergence of fantastic and horrific elements in Serbian films, with exclusive clips from rare titles barely (or never) shown outside of Serbia, like: THE SHE-BUTTERFLY, THE DAMNED THING, STRANGLER VS STRANGLER, DÉJ? VU aka REFLECTIONS, etc.

He will be joined by the directors Mladen Djordjevic (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG) and Srdjan Spasojevic (A SERBIAN FILM), screenwriter Aleksandar Radivojevic (A SERBIAN FILM, TEARS FOR SALE) and producers Nikola Pantelic (A SERBIAN FILM) and Zoran Otasevic (A HOLY PLACE) to discuss the currents trends, potentials and plans for the new face(s) of Serbian horror cinema.




DORM (2006)

Country: Thailand

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 107'


Yodphet Sudsawad


Songyos Sugmakanan


Chalee Trairat, Jintara Sugapat, Siranath Jianthavorn, Suttipong Tudpitakkul

GHOUL RATING: ***(*) 3+

Story: Twelve years old Chatree has been reluctantly transferred to an all boys school where life for him becomes days of misery and loneliness. His new "friends" try to scare him with tales of drowned boys and hanged girls. His teacher does little to make him feel welcome, and he has no friends to confide in. Despite being an outcast, he befriends another student, Vichien. They become friends and for a while things seem bright until one evening he finds that his new friend has a deep dark secret.

Review: At last! DORM - a Thai horror that's not unbearably juvenile (like ART OF THE DEVIL), formulaic (like GHOST OF MAE NAK), exploitative (like THE VICTIM), misguided (like ZEE-OUI: THE MAN-EATER) and/or passé (like NANG-NAK)! So far, Thailand has accomplished only a middling success in horror genre, mostly because of their over-reliance on established (and tired) formulas. Some of their horrors may seem original in local terms, but for an international viewer yet another long-haired ghost will NOT be scary just because it's from Thailand. We've seen too many of those already! SHUTTER came closest to actually delivering the goods (i.e. to being scary), but even that one played more like a decent catalogue of horror clichés than like a legitimate story worth telling. The most successful Thai horrors so far, at least for this reviewer, have been those which strayed away from the formula: either towards unmitigated silliness (like SARS WARS!) or towards a clever satire (13 BELOVED). It would seem that Thai horrors are better when served with a dose of humor, because they're hard to take seriously.

But now, there's DORM.

A title which does not forge a series of puerile gimmicks into a "movie": it does not rely on cheap jump scares nor does it feel the need to have a gruesome demise of some cardboard "character" every 15 minutes for fear the audience might be bored.

DORM takes its time, it does not rush. It is assured, because it knows it has a story to tell, and characters to rely on instead of gimmicks. Of course, if you come expecting a typical Thai horror, you may be surprised and even bored. There are no obnoxious teenagers nor urban women exploring ghost curses, no splatter scenes nor sex to speak of (other than 2 seconds' worth of boobs).

DORM is about a boy on the verge of adulthood who has to come to terms with himself and his environment - to see what he's really made of. More specifically, he has three main tasks to accomplish: 1) test his own ability to live independently, away from his family; 2) test his ability to socialize, through a selfless care for others; and 3) test his ability to come to terms with his father. For the first task he needs courage and integrity; for the second – willingness for self-sacrifice; for the third – forgiveness. In the course of his rites of passage he attains and exemplifies all of these qualities, and comes off as a more adult person in the end.

It's not easy growing up, and the director Songyos Sugmakanan wisely avoids sugarcoating his story. He presents Chartee as a moody, introverted boy who doesn't say a word in the first 20 minutes of the film. And yet, even in the silent moments young Chalee Trairat (also in Sugmakanan's hit MY GIRL) manages to convey a developed character. His silence, especially towards his father, whose calls he refuses to take, is mysterious in the beginning but is gradually revealed to be more serious than a childish grudge over a parental punishment. The key which connects all three tasks is Vichien, a boy who becomes his only real friend in the dorm. Vichien has a secret that's rather easy to guess, and it is revealed half-way through the movie in a fine, tricky scene at the open-air theater, during the showing of a hopping-vampire flick HUNGRY GHOST. After the revelation, Chartee does not abandon Vichien, but gives his best to help him, putting his own life at risk. You'll have to see how.

Rightly compared by many to Del Toro's DEVIL'S BACKBONE, this is a heartfelt, poignant childhood drama that happens to involve a ghost rather than a ghost-story spook-fest of cheap thrills. The spooky scenes arise naturally from the story and do not feel forced. In terms of horror, DORM is pretty light: its ghost is not malevolent and there's neither grudge nor revenge involved. Surprising as it may sound, there's not even the obligatory "let's find the remains and bury them properly to put the ghost to rest" trope. The method involved here is a bit more unorthodox. Some of the rules of the supernatural were quite new to me ("You have to be a ghost to be able to help a ghost!"), but at least the film uses them consistently and meaningfully.

Not all of the film is gloomy, however. The childish pranks and routines are conveyed very convincingly (the director allegedly based a lot of the film on his own childhood memories). DORM is equally alive and interesting in its cheerful, non-supernatural scenes (like the goose-egg stealing), a quality which very few horror films can boast with. Some cynic might suggest that a more appropriate title for this film might be LAVATORY instead of DORM, as it features more scenes of boys pissing than all the other films you'll see this year put together: you have the regular pissoir job, the natural greenery pissing, bed wetting and even a (fright induced) piss down the leg. The only thing missing is the group pissing competition to round up the varieties of childhood pissing experience, but worry not: there's no child nudity involved (do I hear a groan of disappointment from certain quarters?) and the Making of extra feature finally reveals how these scenes are actually filmed (water pumped through tiny plastic tubes). Anyway, since DORM is far from being a piss-poor movie, I'll stop joking here and keep my piss jokes for the next Thai horror that comes my way.

DORM introduces a much needed level of seriousness into the Thai genre filmmaking, and the honesty of its approach pays off magnificently: this is a rare ghost story that managed to get some serious awards, like the Glass Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. Excellent direction, subtle and self-assured, uses the full potentials of the cast and crew. Acting is great all around, with kids played as natural and convincing little people. Art direction and photography (slightly desaturated and with greenish hues) provide memorable contribution to the film's moody atmosphere, while the CGI effects are put to a fine, unobtrusive use. Regardless of whether you care for horror films or not, DORM is simply a very fine film that transcends the generic limitations and deserves to be seen by all.

DVD [ NTSC, Region 1 ] : The film is in anamorphic widescreen and the visuals do justice to the elaborate color schemes, shades and nuances of excellent photography. Audio is available in Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 and Thai DTS 5.1, English subtitles are excellent (I guess Spanish are too, but I wouldn't know!). Special features are a real treasure, far richer than the usual Asian horror DVD offering. You get the following: audio commentary track with writer/director Songyos Sugmakanan joined by Thai film critics; The Making of Dorm (11 min.), a featurette with footage from the shooting of the film; Behind the Scenes (6 min.) also features interviews with the cast and crew; Below the Pool (5 min.) is a look at the special effects used for the film, with storyboards, rough footage and computer effects; Character Introductions (4 min.) mixes footage from the film with the director's comments; finally, a 20 minutes' worth of deleted scenes (with an optional commentary from the director; interesting as an extra, the scenes are rightly cut from the already lengthy film) and the film's original theatrical trailer. Now, this is what I call an excellent DVD presentation of an excellent film!



Country: Japan

Genre: Action/Fantasy

Running Time: 89'


Yuji Shimomura


Tak Sakaguchi, Takamasa Suga, Yoko Fujita, Kentaro Seagal


*** (3)

Story: In an unknown place and unknown time (where ninjas, zombies, motorcycles and rocket launchers co-exist), there is a lone samurai whom the credits label as 'Grave'. His aim is destruction. He's looking for the final battle. For such purposes, he has stolen a mysterious coffin from a temple. It is a powerful object, though few agree on the exact power that resides in it, and some even claim it would unleash destruction upon the Earth if opened. Many people want it. Many people fight to get it. Grave is more than happy to oblige.

Review: ''An unknown time. An unknown place. Without reasons. With no future. His only desire is... Destruction!'' If this braindead tagline speaks to you, you're gonna love the flick. They didn't lie. The time is unknown: just when you think this must be a period piece with ninjas, samurais, ancient temples etc. you get to see heat-seeking missiles and motorcycles. The place is most likely Japan, though it's a Japan you've rarely seen, verging between feudal forests and post-apocalyptic landscapes. The 'without reasons' part of that tag-line is an honest warning not to look for any reason here. Character motivation tends toward zero since more care has been given to their look, the costumes they wear and weaponry they carry than to the 'people' inside the elaborate fancy-wear. 'There is no future' means – there is no end to DEATH TRANCE: what you get is a 'to be continued' coda promising the possibility of the next chapter (which may or may not come). And finally, our protagonist's only desire is – you guessed it! – destruction! Hell, yeah! That's something we can all sympathize with! That's why this flick will be adored by teen boys of all ages.

Our main guy remains nameless throughout the flick, but end credits helpfully announce that he calls himself 'Grave' (since no one else does). He's embodied by Tak Sakaguchi (and I stress 'embodied', for to say 'played by' would imply that there is some acting involved, which would be too far-fetched). Sakaguchi is the action star of VERSUS and BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL, two films which in a manner similar to DEATH TRANCE bent over backwards in order to please the fanboys, dispensing with plot logic and other inconveniencies that stand in the way of outrageous set-pieces. He is a charismatic guy: big, long-haired, with a large sword… he's like a manga character come to life. He's got the looks and he's got the moves. He's most comfortable doing action scenes, and since his no-name 'character' is defined through yearning for destruction (of what? why? aw, forget it!), it comes as a handy excuse for the meat of this film: the fight scenes.

That's where Yuji Shimomura comes into play. He was an action director in Ryuhei Kitamura's VERSUS and ARAGAMI, and in his first film as a director he proves he has a good eye for organizing and framing a fight scene. While VERSUS was a bit repetitive (and, at two hours, a tad overlong), DEATH TRANCE showcases a better sense of timing and variation. Sakaguchi has to fight very different and strikingly colorful opponents, and he's doing it using various weaponry, in different settings, so that you never feel déjà vu. The fights are choreographed well, but are devoid of suspense, since 'Grave' takes very few punches and there is never a real sense of danger or possibility that he could have his ass kicked. He's too cool for that. So, this is basically a ballet film for guys who wouldn't be caught dead watching a real ballet. There's something very gay about all these cute guys, always made up with eyeliners and stuff, carefully dressed and with elaborate hairstyles (just look at that piece on Steven Segal's son: it must've taken a few hours to create that thing on his head, and no matter how much he's punched or thrown around, his hair always stays firm and ready for a photo-shoot). This is a guys' universe with females being either undefined side characters (like a one-dimensional, nameless female fighter, or the two female ninjas) or - Goddesses of Destruction.

Does this mean that DEATH TRANCE is a bad film? Hell, no! If you accept it on its own terms – which boils down to the phrase 'mindless entertainment' – it will deliver exactly that. It is vivid, fine looking, dynamic, original, full of WTF moments, creepy, funny, silly, and essentially puerile in the best sense of the word. Unlike VERSUS, it has very little gore: the fights are almost devoid of red stuff splatter while the 'zombies' that some reviews mention are just some guys in black opera costumes with eye make-up. The flick is a Japanese equivalent of PG-13 rating so it can be freely consumed by under-age viewers. They are, after all, its main audience. Like I said, if you can deal with the silliness promised by its tagline, there's enough to be enjoyed here.

DVD [ NTSC, Region 1 ] : As this is entirely a 'style over substance' kind of flick, it gets an adequate treatment: the image (1.78:1 anamorphic), the colors, the contrasts are as clean and sharp as the wildest fetishists could possibly want them to be, and the same goes for the sound, too. Other than Japanese audio (in 2.0 and 5.1), there is an English dub available (in both 2.0 and 5.1.) for those fanboys unable to read the subtitles. There are not too many extras, the main one being a brief, but entertaining interview with Sakaguchi (in 'Grave' costume: you just won't get to see him in everyday clothes!). Bits of this interview are repeated in the 'making of' segment which is way too short for a film like this. Anyway, since DEATH TRANCE is not something to be thought about or discussed and analyzed, but to be watched and experienced, this DVD dispenses with too much talk or behind the screens and provides the meat (the action in the film itself) in a superb manner.