Blu-ray Review


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The Life and Death of a Porno Gang
The Life and Death of a Porno Gang
3.5 out of 5

star3-5

Comparisons between The Life and Death of a Porno Gang and A Serbian Film are going to be inevitable. Both films are grimly nihilistic morality plays that take place within the disreputable demimonde of the Serbian porn industry, and both view the exploitative nature of the business as a potent metaphor for social relations in the country since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. And the similarities don't end there: Both films include among their cast of characters a corrupt cop who's in the pocket of a powerful porn producer, and, perhaps most importantly, both end on a note of utter hopelessness with the willful embrace of self-annihilation. For the record, though A Serbian Film found its way onto home video sooner, The Life and Death of a Porno Gang is, in fact, the older of the two. The most immediately noticeable difference between the two films is structural. A Serbian Film employs a formally experimental narrative (full of unsettling switchbacks and puzzling lacunae) that leads to ever-escalating tableaux of brutality, degradation, and a shocking twist ending. The Life and Death of a Porno Gang hews closer to the mockumentary genre with its naturalistic, low-res videography, though the events it depicts are anything but laughter-inducing. A Serbian Film enjoys wallowing in envelope-pushing set pieces, while The Life and Death of a Porno Gang plays its own scenes of carnality and carnage with a bit more restraint—relatively speaking, of course.

The film also places considerably more emphasis on the political dimension. Aspiring filmmaker Marko's (Mihajlo Jovanovic) video diary, which comprises the film's first part, coincides with the lead-up to Milosevic's overthrow: Only rather than viewing a man-in-the-street chronicle of the changing of the guard, we're treated to Marko's misguided attempts to wrap his student film, a politico-horror opus that fumblingly fuses Soylent Green and Romero's original Night of the Living Dead. On the eve of Milosevic's ouster, Marko decides to get hammered, waking up the next day to televised coverage of the revolution he's missed. When Marko takes a rough cut of his film to notorious producer Cane (Srdjan Miletic), the man peremptorily dismisses it as "artsy fartsy" hogwash, and advises the budding auteur to get into porn instead. For money men like Cane, culture can't hold a candle to commerce, and so The Life and Death of a Porno Gang suggests that tossing off a (porno) film is more or less analogous to rubbing one out into a hankie.

Marko assembles his plucky band of porno outsiders, including leading lady Una (Ana Acimovic), who specializes in leather, cameraman Vanja (Predrag Damnjanovic), gay porn actors Johnny (Radivoj Knezevic) and Maks (Srdjan Jovanovic), junkies Rade (Aleksandar Gligoric) and Darinka (Mariana Arandjelovic), and Ceca (Ivan Djordjevic), a bullied transvestite they pick up along the way. After falling out with Cane over their highbrow blend of politics and pussy power, the self-professed "porno cabaret" hits the road. Our gang travels the Serbian countryside in a DayGlo-spangled van. During one stopover, they ingest some magic mushrooms and indulge in an equal-opportunity orgy (shades of Lars von Trier's The Idiots). More than anything, though, the porno gang's performance art pieces call to mind Makavejev's Sweet Movie, in particular the scenes involving Otto Muehl and the Vienna Actionists, with their distinctive blend of Reichian therapy (best described, perhaps, as primal screams and wet dreams). Moreover, the film's redolent hippie iconography hints at an egalitarian style of radical existence that's a far cry from what these porno pilgrims will experience along the way to their own private Calgary.

Their transgressive presentations, as it happens, aren't exactly a smash with outlying villagers. In fact, they're soon assaulted by the sort of torch-and-pitchfork mob that belongs in a Frankenstein movie, which isn't nearly as unpleasant as another reception committee that shows its appreciation with a porno gang-rape straight out of Deliverance. After this rather inauspicious debut, Marko's group has been "tenderized" enough to consider a German businessman's offer to move into snuff-film production. What follows is a series of gloomy vignettes wherein the porno gang dispatches willing victims, volunteers whose families have been promised payment for their "services"—among them, a young soldier traumatized by his memories of recent war crimes and an elderly farmer who needs the money to pay for rehabilitative cosmetic surgery on a daughter deformed by bomb blast. In the film's final act, the toll taken on the gang members by their destructive deeds turns inward, and what's left of the band (mostly Marko) sets out on a quest for revenge against the forces that have oppressed, commoditized, and demoralized them. Not that their actions offer more than a measly semblance of gratification; after all, this isn't a Quentin Tarantino movie. No, this is a revenger's tragedy, where the curtain comes down on a stage littered with bloody carcasses.

IMAGE / SOUND:

Considering the fact that The Life and Death of a Porno Gang was shot on low-grade digital video, then rendered even cruddier through post-production tampering, Synapse Films' Blu-ray transfer looks perfectly watchable. And, really, given the film's subject matter, you probably aren't going to want its imagery to come across much clearer. The Serbian stereo mix is equally serviceable.

EXTRAS:

Synapse Films has done an excellent job assembling some choice supplements for this package. Extras include director Mladen Djordjevic's "Made in Serbia," a feature-length documentary on the Serbian porn industry, as well as a handful of extended/deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a theatrical trailer. "Made in Serbia" is as downbeat a dissection of his country's socioeconomic woes as the director's fiction film, and even more explicit, what with countless scenes of hardcore action shown in part or whole. The behind-the-scenes footage is less enlightening. Following cast and crew around the woods where much of the film was shot, this featurette mostly just shows them goofing off and clowning around; insight into characters or storyline isn't exactly forthcoming. The deleted scenes are more intriguing, but it's easy to see why they were cut from a film that already runs almost two grueling hours.

OVERALL:

It emerges as a more politically engaged companion piece to its showier compatriot, A Serbian Film, and Synapse Films gives it an excellent, well-rounded Blu-ray package.


DISC RATINGS:
Image: 3.5 out of 5
Sound: 3.5 out of 5
Extras: 3.5 out of 5
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
DISC FEATURES:
Specifications:
  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region A
Aspect Ratio:
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital Formats:
  • None
DTS Digital Formats:
  • Serbian 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles/Captions:
  • English Subtitles
Special Features:
  • "Made in Serbia" Feature-Length Documentary on the Serbian Adult Entertainment Industry
  • Making-of Featurette
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible Cover Art

Director(s): Mladen Djordjevic Screenplay: Mladen Djordjevic Cast: Mihajlo Jovanovic, Ana Acimovic, Predrag Damnjanovic, Radivoj Knezevic, Srdjan Jovanovic, Ivan Djordjevic, Bojan Zogovic, Natasa Miljus, Aleksandar Gligoric, Mariana Arandjelovic, Srdjan Miletic Distributor: 2012-08-14 Street Date: August 14, 2012 Runtime: 112 min Rating: NR Year: 2010

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