Life and Death of Porno Gang (2009)

Rating:

Life and Death of Porno Gang (Zivot I Smrt Porno Bande)

Serbia. 2009.

Crew

Director/Screenplay – Mladen Dordevic, Producers – Srdan Golubovic & Jelena Mitrovic, Photography – Nemanja Jovanov, Music – Janja Loncar, Digital Effects – Marko Milovic, Special Effects Supervisor – Muhamed M’Barek-Toske, Makeup Effects – Miroslav Lakobrija, Production Design – Zorana Petrov. Production Company – Film House Bas Celik

Cast

Mihajlo Z. Jovanovic (Marko), Ana Acimovic (Una Savic), Srboljub Milin (Frantz), Radivoj Knezevic (Dzoni), Ivan Dordevic (Ceca), Srdan Jovanovic (Maks), Natasa Miljus (Sofija), Aleksandar Gligoric (Rade), Predrag Damnjanovic (Vanja), Bojan Zogovic (Dragan), Mariana Arandelovic (Darinka), Srdan Miletic (Cane Vujdovic), Dragan Dordevic (Inspector Strahinja Pantic)


Plot

Marko grows up in Belgrade in the 1990s with dreams of making it as a filmmaker. Unable to get anybody to fund his ideas, he eventually takes work for the porn producer Cane. When Marko squanders Cane’s money to make what he considers an art film, Cane has his cop brother beat him up and demand the money back. Going into hiding, Marko is taken with the actress Una Savic after seeing her in a minor role in a stage production. They become lovers and hatch the idea of Porno Theatre that would take a mix of pornography and social commentary to the masses. Recruiting various hangers-on from Cane’s outfit, they put on a show but this is shut down and they beaten by Cane’s cop brother. The group then set out in a van to take the show to small towns, calling themselves Porno Gang. Instead, their brand of outrage has them driven out of towns, arrested and brutalised. In the midst of this, Marko meets the German Frantz who offers them a good deal of money to make snuff movies. Marko at first refuses but after the group is raped and all their money taken, he decides that this is their only option. And so the group set out on a new career path of filming people who are paid money to be brutalised and then killed on camera.


Life and Death of Porno Gang came out just before the much more high-profile and controversial A Serbian Film (2010). Both works are remarkably similar. Both are made in Serbia and concern people who dabble in pornographic performance and are forced to take on more extreme work as a result of financial circumstances, which in both cases ends them up in the arena of snuff filmmaking. A Serbian Film was determined to brutalise and upset an audience, whereas Life and Death of Porno Gang is much more of a slow burner by comparison, involving us in the lives of its titular gang before stepping over the edge – although ends up being no less shocking in its own way.

Life and Death of Porno Gang spends the better part of its first half following the travails of its titular group. The performers, particularly those in the colourful supporting cast of misfits, etch a series of memorable characterisations. Mladen Dordevic has a good deal of amusement poking fun at the pretensions of would-be filmmakers and artists (although I am sure that the film’s proposed combination of pornographic performance, social criticism and live theatre would find an audience out there somewhere – indeed, as I write I just learned about an organisation called Fuck for Forest (www.fuckforforest.com) that combines pornography and environmental activism).

Mladen Dordevic certainly shocks us when he does. There are some harsh and unglamourised scenes where we see the Porno Gang being hosed down and taunted by police officers and then released, only to be gang raped by waiting people from another village. It is however when we finally start seeing the snuff movies being shot that the film reserves its greatest effect. There are a number of raw, shock despatches during these scenes – victims being killed with bullets in the head, a man’s head being chainsawed off, a masochist who gleefully starts cutting himself with a razor – which have undeniable impact despite some occasionally unconvincing makeup effects. As much as this, the impact of the film lies not just in the brutality of the acts but the slow accumulating moral effect we see it having on the troupe of performers.

When we come to the scene where the former soldier is claimed as a victim, we begin to see the social critique that underlies Life and Death of Porno Gang (and similarly A Serbian Film). Western films about snuff filmmaking such as Snuff (1976), The Last House on Dead End Street (1977), Hardcore (1979), The Art of Dying (1991), Mute Witness (1995), August Underground (2001), The Great American Snuff Film (2003), Amateur Porn Star Killer (2007) and sequels and Vacancy (2007) seem caught up in merely being thrillers or sensationalistic shock films, or else parables of social/moral collapse such as 8MM (1999). In the American variations, snuff filmmaking seems the ultimate extension of a distastefully sordid world of smut and pornography being conducted in a black market underground. Frequently, it is seen as being conducted by psychopathic and disturbed individuals. These Serbian films are different in that they locate it within a sense of domestic social criticism, as acts that are being conducted by ordinary people out of financial desperation. The scenes where we see a group of visiting Americans having paid to come and watch a performance being put on makes this surely a Balkan equivalent or at least answer to Hostel (2005), which similarly painted Eastern Europe as a world that had slid towards a lawlessness that allowed the proliferation of an illicit torture for profit ring.

Life and Death of Porno Gang and A Serbian Film are both films that seem made as a reaction to the Serbo-Croatian War of the early 1990s (following the post-Soviet collapse of the former Yugoslavia). There is a long scene where a soldier says he wants to be executed because he cannot live with himself as a result of the crimes he participated in and saw happen during the War. Both films seem to be a reaction to the slide of civilised decency slide that saw ethnic cleansing and other war crimes suddenly become acceptable. Both films seem to advocate the necessity of having to travel to extremes and pushing their audiences so that people are able to register a sense of moral shock once again.



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