Life and Death of a Porno Gang, The

Director - Mladen Djordevic

Cast - Mihajlo Jovanovic, Ana Acimovic, Predrag Damnjanovic

Country of Origin - Serbia

Discs - 1

Distributor - Synapse

Reviewer - Bobby Morgan

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The Film: 4/5

 

Idealistic filmmaker Marko (Mihajlo Jovanovic) wants to make the kind of horror and fantasy films he grew up loving, but the market for those features has dried up and no financier will take a chance on the untested talent. That is, until Marko meets Cane (Srdjan Miletic), a porn director who sees promise in the younger man. Marko tries but fails to interest his new mentor in his vision of making “socio-political porn horror”, so he decides instead to use some of Cane’s money to start a porn cabaret in Belgrade where he will stage live shows that merge sex of all varieties with social and political thematic content. For this endeavor he builds a troupe of performers consisting of: Una (Ana Acimovic), a beautiful but distraught woman looking to make a major change in her life; Vanja (Predrag Damnjanovic); Dragan (Bojan Zogovic); plus-size (and mighty proud of it) performer Sofija (Natasa Miljus); Darinka (Mariana Arandjelovic) and Rade (Aleksandar Gligoric), a junkie couple with children; and Johnny (Radivoj Knezevic) and Maks (Srdjan Jovanovic), a pair of AIDS-infected former gay porn stars.

 

On opening night the cabaret is shut down by the police and word gets back to Cane, who is none too happy to hear the news, thanks to his corrupt cop brother. Facing the wrath of the vengeful brothers Marko and his “Porno Gang” decide to take their act on the road and perform live, outdoor sex shows in small villages in the countryside away from Cane. Along the way they pick up Ceca (Ivan Djordjevic), an unhappy transvestite living on a farm who has a certain intimate way with horses that makes him/her invaluable to the show. From village to village Marko, Una, and the others encounter increasingly horrible treatment from the locals. Following one show Marko meets older gentleman Franz; Franz offers Marko the chance to make some real money and get his unique brand of theater to a much different but more appreciative audience by using the Porno Gang to make snuff films with willing participants who have differing reasons for wanting to be killed on camera: some do it to ensure the financial security of their families, others seek spiritual redemption. The offer is too tempting for Marko to resist and he gets the others to go along with Franz’s proposal, but while the money goes a long way towards relieving them of the moral burden the group begins to splinter and succumb to guilt and suicide as they become hunted criminals. What started out as a valiant mission to bring sexually-charged performance art to the repressed masses will end with a metaphorical descent into a hell from which there is ultimately no escape.

 

Okay, so now that I’ve allotted two paragraphs rather my usual one paragraph for the synopsis - and believe me, those two were just scratching the surface - it’s time for me to share my thoughts on The Life & Death of a Porno Gang. To be perfectly honest I was kind of dreading the moment when I would have to sit down and pop this movie into my beloved Blu-ray player. Really dreading it. You see my friends, although I have yet to see the ultra-controversial A Serbian Film I am well aware of its reputation and what it’s about. With that in mind I have no desire to see the movie. I don’t think my life will be any better or worse for not seeing it. It just sounds like pointless, nihilistic shock for shock’s sake and that just ain’t my cup of tea. However I am glad I have seen Porno Gang. This movie actually manages to be a powerful and introspective meditation on the creation of radical art and how it is received by the uninitiated masses - in between the blow jobs, golden showers, implied bestiality, and homosexual anal sex (complete with close-up penetration shots). Working with director of photography Nemanja Jovanov director Mladen Djordjevic gave his film the look of a grungy, chaotic documentary, and given the film’s underlying theme of creating confrontational art in the form of depraved entertainment that look suits Porno Gang very well.

 

Before you start to think that movie is a barrel of shits and giggles let me warn you that Porno Gang tends to get very unpleasant once Marko and the gang take their act on the road. In one harrowing scene they’re cornered and raped by a group of creepy townsfolk. It’s unbearable to watch but what the gang does in response to their brutal violation earns them a modest victory; for a brief moment they take the power away from their tormentors and throw it right back in their disgusting faces. It’s almost enough to make you smile a little. Almost. When Franz enters the picture and the snuff flicks start rolling in things take a turn for the bloodily violent. Yet the violence never goes over the top, with the exception of a chainsaw decapitation. Sometimes it’s enough to make you want to shy away but if you’re like and you’ve seen your share of on-screen ultra-violence in your lifetime the majority of it won’t bother you much. Even the sexual content rarely goes into XXX territory, but it’s good that Djordjevic threw some of the hard stuff (no pun intended) in to keep things interesting. You might be appalled by what you see. You won’t be able to look away either.

 

The snuff film sequences are where the movie not only gets to indulge in some juicy latex and Karo gore effects but also where it introduces an additional undercurrent of sociopolitical commentary. By presenting the intended “victims” of the films as paid volunteers who have ended up in front of Marko’s camera because for them it’s their only remaining option to save their families and their mortal souls Djordjevic forces us to deal with the fact that these people are not disposable horror movie victims but real human beings who truly believe that being murdered in front of a camera for the sick pleasure of Franz’s customers is their ticket to ultimate redemption. The performances from the film’s ensemble cast are a mixed bag, with Mihajlo Jovanovic and Ana Acimovic the standouts as the ambitious but conflicted young filmmaker and his haunted muse and sweetheart. Srdjan Miletic is also a twisted hoot as the loathsome Cane and his verbally abusive outbursts are good for a few awkward laughs.

 

Audio/Video: 3/5

 

Synapse presents Porno Gang in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that was converted to 1080p high-definition from the movie’s original PAL format. The results are less than stellar but considering that director Djordjevic shot his movie on digital video using a Panasonic AG-DVX100 the high qualities of grain are understandable. Natural lighting for the outdoor scenes looks pretty good. It’s a solid transfer with plenty of dazzling colors, the cabaret performance scenes being the greatest beneficiary of the picture quality. The Serbian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track aptly balances out the dialogue with the music and ambient effects although the film’s few original songs in the cabaret scenes tend to get a little boost when necessary. English subtitles are provided.

 

Extras: 4/5

 

The best of the supplemental features on this disc is “Made in Serbia” (101 minutes), an early documentary about the adult film industry in Serbia directed by Djordjevic years before he made Porno Gang. You can only find this feature on the Blu-ray even though Porno Gang is also available on standard DVD. It’s an eye-opening look into the country’s pornography mainstream and its underground and the people who occupy it’s every level, from those who shoot the smut to the proprietors of the video stores that peddle the tapes on the open market. Much of what’s on display here can be unpleasant to watch, like turning over a rock in the woods and seeing how many insects are underneath, but if you can muster the gall to watch Made in Serbia from beginning to end you might be amply rewarded for the effort.

 

There is also a documentary devoted to chronicling the making of The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (28 minutes). It’s a fly-on-the-wall look at the film’s production with much behind-the-scenes footage and occasional insights from the cast and crew. Nothing too revelatory here but the featurette is good enough to merit a single watch.

 

A theatrical trailer closes out the extra features.

 

Overall: 4/5

 

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang is not an easy film to watch if you’re not accustomed to scenes of sexual and physical brutality (not to mention the hardcore porn inserts) but filmmaker Djordjevic offsets the controversial subject matter with fascinating characters and a strong underlying theme of the corrupting power money can have over artistic integrity. Compared to films that resort to tasteless shock tactics in order to find its audience Porno Gang looks even more like a real movie. If you consider yourself an open-minded moviegoer checking this brilliant film out at least once might do you some good.