IFFR 2010: DEVIL'S TOWN Review
(Possible alternate title: "Men Suck And All Women Are Whores!" )
The Serbs must have a very peculiar view of their own nationality, judging by the way they choose to portray themselves in recent cinematic output. Soon to be seen at SXSW 2010 is Srdjan Spasojevic's "A Serbian Film", but at the International Film Festival Rotterdam this year we got another Serbian debut: Vladimir Paskaljevic's "Devil's Town".
Yet while "A Serbian Film" is already creating a violence-related hype as strong as "Antichrist" did last year or "Martyrs" did two years ago, "Devil's Town" takes a different route: that of the satiric ensemble-comedy. Nevertheless, Vladimir has to use quite some sex and violence (and often both) to show his opinion about the people currently living in present-day Belgrade...
It's a sunny day in Belgrade but nearly everyone is glued to the television as a Serbian tennis heroine is about to win an international tournament, while a rich girl treats her poor girlfriend to tennis lessons. The rich girl's mother secretly runs a brothel which is visited by an old retired gyneacologist, not to satisfy his sexual urges but just to be able to ply his trade once more.
When the unfortunate man gets a stroke and ends up in hospital the troubled relationships with his sons come into play, as does the ever widening network of their friends, lovers, bosses, employees, the two tennis-playing girls, hookers and a variety of madmen... including one extremely angry cab driver and a monk who tries to design the smallest bible in the world.
Director Vladimir Paskaljevic is a well-known writer and the son of famous director Goran Paskaljevic. Working together the two have already achieved quite some successes when the older Paskaljevic based his films on the younger's stories, but this time it's Pavel directing while his father is the producer. Being known as an author and having based his film on a collection of actual and rumored events in recent Belgrade, you might expect the script to be the strong point of "Devil's Town". Unfortunately, it isn't.
Being an ensemble piece, you get introduced to a great many people and the fun is in trying to figure out how they relate to each other, hopefully resulting in either a witty narrative or a profound revelation. However, when neither of these things happen I feel a bit let down.
Not that there is nothing interesting happening: each person by itself seems to live in his/her own amoral little universe and get a few good moments. All men lie and cheat (or want to cheat) and all women use sex to achieve their goals. This is shown quite candidly with especially the sex-scenes being ballsy enough to make you wonder if it's still technically speaking "softcore". And a note for those interested: most of the women in this film are damn pretty. A fledgling director's plan to earn an Oscar for his movie ("I'll just show a lot of insane Serbs, people in the West love that!") is also pretty funny.
There are some nice touches, the production and camerawork looks slick, and the angry cabdriver almost earns his own movie. But in the end it all doesn't really amount to anything. Vladimir Paskaljevic told audiences that he wanted to explore a possible link between people's antisocial behavior and the recent wars, but that link never becomes apparent in this film. One moment there is a hint that the most violent character indeed participated in ethnic cleansing, but that same character reveals a minute later that he was already plenty screwy before the war even started, so that point becomes mute the moment it's raised. The rampant corruption in both industry and government also gets some lip-service, but this happens in angry rants told by people who are themselves quite untrustworthy,
At the end of the film the last few links between characters are established, but it raises no new points. Whatever you take with you after seeing this film will have happened in the first half hour. After those thirty minutes plenty of stuff happens but doesn't address anything new.
Meant as a scathing satire depicting the moral vacuum common in the people living in post-war Belgrade (according to Paskaljevic), "Devil's Town" failed to impress me. As a comedy it is just not funny enough, and as a drama there are too many unbelievable developments to keep me invested as a viewer.
This is just my opinion though: the audiences in Rotterdam rated this movie quite highly with a 3.7 out of 5...