Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang


   If you're into 'extreme' movies, someone who's likely to google 'most disturbing movies ever' and make a to-watch list comprised of the results, then you've probably heard of, or even seen A Serbian Film. It's one of two movies (that I know of) that deals with porn and snuff in Serbia. The Life and Death of a Porno Gang is the second. It's kind of hard to talk about it without addressing A Serbian Film as well. See, despite it's notorious reputation for being nothing but a gratuitous smorgasbord of sex and violence and violent sex- it's been said that it's actually a movie with a message about Serbia and the way things are. Or something like that. I saw A Serbian Film... and I didn't see any message.

   I can't say for sure if The Life and Death of a Porno Gang has a message, but it's more likely to. I may just not be able to see the forest for the trees here. The Life and Death of a Porno Gang is a more even experience than A Serbian Film. It takes it's time to create colorful and wild characters that I seriously cared about, and then put them on a journey that can only end in tragedy. I don't think this movie has a chance at achieving the rampant notoriety that A Serbian Film has. Which is kind of a shame because I think if it did, more people would be exposed to it and watch it even if just out of sheer curiosity. Ultimately, despite dealing with the same material, the big difference between these two titles, is that The Life and Death of a Porno Gang is actually a good movie.

   The movie is incredibly lurid and pulpy, but it starts out with characters who could easily inhabit a romantic comedy instead. Young aspiring filmmaker Marko has big dreams about creating big science fiction and horror movies with international appeal, but constant rejections land him on the porno circuit instead. It's there he gets inspired to do something different: live porno theater. Of course, the local establishments in Belgrade chase them out of town, so Marko and his newly assembled troupe of actors take their show on the road, travelling the countryside with their act. It seems like good times at first and you'd be hard pressed to see the tragedy at the end of this road. But, make no mistake, it's there.

   It doesn't take long for their act to get the wrong kind of reception, and things start to go very south, very fast. It stops being one big fun road trip with sex and drugs, and gradually starts becoming a violence laden journey full of blood and death. You can feel these characters trying to keep their spirits up, and they all look to Marko as their de facto leader as he makes the choices for them, while insisting they also have a say in it as well. I'm sure even Marko believed that, but it's very obvious that these people would've followed his lead on just about anything. He has a very magnetic way about him, and is undeniably the glue of the group.

   See, I could talk about these characters the whole time. They're fascinating and very alive. It's what A Serbian Film was lacking. It had no truly engaging characters and no interesting story behind it's exploitative and grotesque elements. When things start going bad for the Porno Gang, you feel devastated for them. With every decision Marko makes he's unintentionally pushing them further into the dark side of this underground world of amateur porn, video, and ultimately snuff films. While they have a whole system laid out, and they don't kill anyone who doesn't want to die, it's truly soul sucking traveling around and finding people who want to be killed, just to pay the bills- so to speak.

   The movie does a great job of showing the conflict these characters have as each small moral and ethical compromise they make ends up having much larger repercussions. But, above it all, you can tell that Marko is only ever trying to do what he feels is right; a distinction that ends up getting very muddied for him. The movie itself has a very cinema verite style which is actually quite fitting here, considering the content and topic of the movie. That doesn't prevent the cinematography from being quite excellent at times. Overall, the movie is one of the most grimy, pulpy, trashy, lurid, and disturbing movies you're ever likely to see- but it's also worth seeing. Something which I couldn't really say about A Serbian Film.

  The Life and Death of a Porno Gang is definitely not for everyone. It's graphic content will immediately put some people off and that's the least of it's issues. It's lack of a forward moving story and it's languid pacing kind of hurts it as much as it is also essential to the narrative. Nevertheless, while it's not perfect, if you like lurid and trashy flicks, you'll find a lot to digest in this one. I think it's head and shoulders above A Serbian Film, and manages to be as fascinating, entertaining and poignant as it is eventually depressing and disgusting.

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