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August 14, 2012

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang

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Zivot i smrt porno bande
Mladen Djordjevic - 2009
Synapse Films Region 0 DVD

While the more easily exploitable elements are what is used to sell The Life and Death of a Porno Gang, viewing this film reveals there is much more than what's on the surface. Presented as a video diary of a young Serbian film director, Marko, whose career takes some unexpected twists and turns, the film takes place between 1999 and 2002. There are references to Serbian history that may be lost to the more casual viewer, perhaps the most important being Marko's completely sleeping through October 5, 2000, a significant day for Serbians. It's not the first film to be self-contradictory or self-critical, or to be ultimately nihilistic. What needs to be recognized is that there is some serious intent, and not simply shock for its own sake.

Marko's plan to make a artistic horror or fantasy film is derailed when the only producer who bothers to speak to him deems the project to expensive to be profitable. A career making commercials brings in some money, but little satisfaction. A chance meeting with a porn producer leads Marko to making videos, where he is constantly admonished not to make anything "artsy". The one time Marko makes a film on his own, it's a parody of the kind of films that use to be made in Eastern Europe, of a failed farmer who ends up, as the Bible would put it, spilling his seed on the arid farmland. Between the film the producer can't sell, and the money lost for another production, Marko decides to change his career.

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Creating a group that performs on stage, combining sex with political and social commentary, Marko soon hits the road with his group where they perform in various rural villages. An older man, a German journalist with international connections, offers Marko and the gang a substantial sum if they make the occasional "snuff" film with volunteer victims. The acceptance of the offer brings about inevitable consequences.

One can describe both the publicly staged performances of the porno gang and the film itself as having antecedents with Grand Guignol, and to some extent the concept of the Theater of Cruelty, or even The Living Theater's production of "Paradise Now". And it could well be that I am reading more into this film than may have been intended by Mladen Djordjevic, but then the history of film, in part is the discovery of connections and meanings that may have not been consciously included by filmmakers. An interview with Djordjevic indicates interest only in the more superficial aspects of this film.

Am I reading too much into what I've seen? Perhaps. And I think that by centering a story on a group of people who are self-described failures, trying to give their lives their lives meaning, Djordjevic is attempting to be confrontational about life in Serbia. Capitalism as it exists is at its most raw. The impulses that led to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia are not far from the surface. I can't really say whether The Life and Death of a Porno Gang is a "great" film or even a "good" film. For myself, what Djordjevic is describing about the human condition, marginalized people, and the commodification and spectacle of sex and violence, makes aesthetic judgments besides the point.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 14, 2012 08:01 AM


Nice review -- especially the part about being confrontational about life in Serbia. There's something there, I think; I kinda felt the same thing.

Posted by: BRS at August 14, 2012 03:37 PM