Film as rape culture: the ethics of aversion in Srdan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film (2010)

Cronin, Theresa (2015) Film as rape culture: the ethics of aversion in Srdan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film (2010). In: International Association of Media and Communication Research annual Conference, IAMCR 2015, 12-16 Jul 2015, Montreal, Canada. . [Conference or Workshop Item]


This paper will concern itself with the issue of the representation of rape within contemporary cinema. It begins with the current UK regulatory guidelines set out by the BBFC which censure any apparent endorsement of depictions of rape, by encouraging an aesthetic of trauma and aversion. However, I will argue that this commitment to aversion may actively work against a feminist politic by transposing the everyday lived reality of rape into a realm of ‘hyperbolic shock’ (Kennedy and Smith, 2012). A case in point being the problematic depiction of rape within A Serbian Film (2010), a film which the director has vehemently argued is an allegory for post-war Serbia, leading us to view the film as a kind of ‘return of the repressed’ of the Balkan war, specifically in the use of rape as a weapon of war within the conflict.
This film will be considered in the context of a number of recent fictional and documentary representations of war rape, such as Esma's Secret (2006), City of Life and Death (2010), Flowers of War (2011), and In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011), Calling the Ghosts (1996), Operation Fine Girl (2001), Weapon of War (2007), and The Greatest Silence (2007). Unlike these films A Serbian Film abandons a realist aesthetic and borrows heavily from horror and exploitation cinema, which in itself, may be a cause for consternation. Nevertheless, the film can still be read as a sincere example of ‘trauma cinema’. Spasojević’s narrative plays out in a ‘flashback’ structure, and as such produces a semblance of the experience of Nachträglichkeit within the viewer. That is, a sense of reliving an event both through the sequencing of the narrative, and in the imaginative reconstruction of the plot. But more than this, the film does not seek the viewer’s empathy or understanding, rather it attempts to produce a heightened affective state within the viewer; of fear, disgust, horror and above all aversion. The viewer is invited not to witness the horror of rape but to endure it. However, A Serbian Film, also demands that we sympathise with the unwitting aggressor, and while the final scenes of mute pain and trauma suffered by the once picture perfect family might go some way to instilling a sense of tragedy and loss in the viewer, it does nothing to recover the voices of a string of women within the film who will remain forever silent, and whose bodies conform to the objectifying aesthetics of exploitation cinema.
While my central point within this paper will be to argue that aversion alone cannot guarantee the acceptability of images of rape, this paper attempts to grapple with the wider issue of rape and representation within our culture. That is, to pose the more troubling question of how the quotidian reality of rape can be handled by filmmakers without recourse to the codes and conventions of exploitation on the one hand, or equally troublesome clichés and euphemisms on the other (Projanski, 2001).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
Item ID: 18190
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Theresa Cronin
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2015 17:01
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2018 10:11

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