Synapse Films drops The Life and Death of a Porno Gang on Blu-Ray. Its Serbian, it’s about porn, and it will probably make you question your belief in the future of humanity.
The Film- Marko, a graduate of the Serbian Film Academy, dreams of directing his first movie. As a side project, he begins videotaping himself along the way, an autobiography/documentary combo. His girlfriend is an aspiring actress, which lands her and Marko work on several commercials- with little success. They break up, and through a chance meeting with one of the biggest names in Serbian porn, a sadistic man known as Cain, Marko begins directing a series of pornos.
With his foot in the door, Marko uses a hefty chunk of Cain’s money to direct a horror film. The plot centers on a farmer who, without any yield of crop, fucks his fields in an attempt to grow something. This results in some insane hallucinogenic weed, and withdrawals turn the junkies into ravenous zombies. Cain is less than amused and demands his money back, which Marko does not have. He goes into hiding with his friend and cameraman Vanja. Cane himself is scary enough, but it’s his cop brother that has Marko the most unnerved. And that brings us to the first ever Sins of Cinema PSA **Serbian families: if you have a brother that is a cop, he is most likely a murderous rapist. Avoid any policemen with a single brother before they drive you to commit suicide**
Low in spirits, Marko heads into a shitty theater, and the quality of the production doesn’t help. Despite the lackluster play, he is infatuated with Una, a supporting actress who aimed big and failed miserably. They begin a relationship, and together dream up the idea of live theater porn. The plan is to record what’s on the stage plus charge admission, making money two fists at a time. This also will give Marko a chance to throw in some artsy and political themes, which goes against the “to the point 15 minute fuck clips” that Cane requests him shoot. Marko believes this is the reason the Serbian porn industry is total shit, and hopes his performance will change everything. He rounds of several actors, all of whom are employed by Cane, and lets the show begin.
The audience doesn’t receive the show well, maybe because it feels like a Kenneth Anger film directed by Ed Wood Jr. Halfway through, the cop brother crashes the gig, kicking everyone out and bringing Marko back to Cane to face the music. After a thorough ass kicking, he decides to leave the town of Belgrade and begin a roving porn theater. His crew is Una, Vanja, Dragan- a dopey actor who was bullied by Cane, Sofija- a “chubby and proud” actress, Darinka and Rade- a couple with kids who are addicted to every drug imaginable, and Johnny and Maks- two gay lovers with aids. After buying a van and painting it with cocks and boobies, they head out into the backwood Serbian villages to deliver some real “Serbian Sex Ed”.
The first village they stop at loves their show, which is a man who fucks a grave and is castrated by the corpse within. Upon returning home, his wife mocks him and his infidelity, leaving him for dead. After a successful night, they manage to add a new member to the cabaret- a cross dresser who’s into bestiality. While everyone else is preparing for bed, Marko notices a strange man beckoning him to come closer. This is Franz, a German who came to Serbia to film war atrocities in the Yugoslavian War, making your typical rotten.com death clips full of executions and bombing footage. Since the porno theater is already taboo, Franz offers Marko the chance to take it one step further- snuff films.
Marko instantly declines the offer, and arrives back at the camp site just in time. An angry mob of villagers run them off, and they make their way to the next town. That night the show ups the depravity to the tenth power, and the gang find themselves in jail. After a grueling experience of police brutality, they make their way back to the van to load up, but the angry mob from the first village are waiting at their makeshift theater, and they’re not there to ask for an encore.
After an inhuman attack on the group, Marko begins to realize that Franz’s offer might be the only card they have left to play. After discussing the rules, the porno gang agrees to become the first snuff performers of all time. Franz will find people who no longer wish to live, and once they are killed in a sensational way, the videotape of the murder will yield both the gang and the victims’ families a hefty payment- an incentive for both parties. As the van makes its way from town to town leaving a bloody trail behind, the new antics begin to take their toll on the gang. It’s only a matter of time before the cops, Franz, or their own nature result in the death of the porno gang.
This is one of the only movies I have ever seen that sticks in your brain in little snippets. There is so much that happens in the almost two hour runtime that a decent chunk gets over shadowed in your memory, leaving fragments of inhuman actions and misanthropy behind. In short, please bear with me if my writing becomes fragmented and disjointed, the film really does have that effect on you. I doubt it will go into idiotic mumbling akin to “the overall theme of the film is how evil people can be given the charb hurba, hubba churga durka”, but there is some serious mind (and soul) altering power to be had.
At the time of watching Life and Death, I was under the influence of a pretty nasty 103.5 degree fever. All I can say is I pray that half of what my mind processed was delusions of a boiling brain, because if not, I have no hope for humanity. This is easily one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen, managing to be playfully nihilistic, vibrantly downbeat, and uplifting depressing. This is one of only a handful of movies that makes you love wallowing in inhumanity, without any hope of redemption for anyone involved.
Let me say here, there are three things I know virtually nothing about: the porn industry in Serbia, the politics in Serbia, and what it’s like to watch a Serbian version of a “donkey show”. Luckily Life and Death has all three, because, you know, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without experiencing a sliver of all those things. What begin as a simple almost famous story quickly turns into something that modern English can’t even describe. We quickly move from a critique on making it in the movie biz, to a critique on the porn industry, and then it moves into something that is a mix of critique on human nature and just downright shoving it in your face. But the best thing about it, it’s creepily cheerful.
Okay, so everything involving the gang is just flamboyantly colorful. From their wardrobe, which range from polka dot fur to gay S&M biker garb, to the 60’s vibe put off by light shows during the performances,
to their van, which looks like the Magical Mystery Tour bus designed by perverts. It’s pretty in a basic sense, especially when put in front of multiple rural towns and muddy backwoods. Just imagine if the Care Bears hated you. You get the idea.
The shows themselves have virtually nothing to do with porn, or even sex for that matter, as we know it. Necrophilia, gay bondage (though not on par with the infamous Roger Earl film Born to Raise Hell by any means), geophilia (if it didn’t exist, it does now), bestiality, and death. I’m sure a lot of this is a surreal poke to the ribs of political and social tension in Serbia, but since I’m not familiar with it, it just leaves a half smile, half scowl on my face that is entertaining regardless. Then the murder comes into play…
Unlike the bullshit socio-culture oppression themes of the infamous A Serbian Film, Life and Death actually has, and conveys, the Serbian cultural impact of death. It’s a country fresh out of war, desensitized to violence and depravity. The sex acts are shocking, but death and debauchery is not only overlooked, there’s a paying audience for it. Hell, the police don’t even care about the snuff as much as they do the taboo porno shows (I’m guessing their introduction manual is the MPAA rating system).
The snuff films are not that exciting actually. It’s pretty quick and to the point, taking more time to explain why this person is accepting suicide by snuff than the actual murder. I mean it’s gory, with chainsaws, straight razors, and wooden hammers all playing a part in their film collection, but it’s not sensational in a gore sense. Don’t expect any red velvet family rape dungeons like in Serbian Film, because Life and Death is not about selling the sizzle instead of the steak, it prefers to sell a rotten piece of meat, full of tetanus needles, with a match on top of it.
Now here’s where you’re either going to buy the film or stop caring. Obviously the easiest thing to compare it to is A Serbian Film, because they both hail from the same country and deal with porn and snuff. While Life and Death is nowhere near as gory, visceral, or shocking as Serbian Film, it is more bleak, hateful, social, and depressing. It all just depends on what you think is disturbing, blood and gore, or seeing the pitch black side of human nature. While I enjoy both types of film, if you have to be shocked by in your face visuals, this will not appease you.
My only true complaint is I could not tell if this was more a mockery of Serbian porn or society. There are obvious elements of both, but since I’m not in the middle of it (and let’s face it, unless your country is about to bomb us, America really doesn’t care), I can’t pick which one. This isn’t a filmmaking error; it’s just a culture gap that most viewers probably won’t be able to pass. Or I could be completely wrong and it could be something else entirely, because themes of intolerance, homosexuality (which from what I could gather it had a progressive stance on despite using slurs like “faggot” and “tranny” constantly), aids, and drug abuse are also rampant.
In short this is what would happen if you mix von Trier’s Antichrist with Gummo and had John Waters direct. It’s not a hateful movie, because over half the extreme scenes are interjected with absurd humor (like a gang rape with the victims randomly bursting out in laughter), but it is a dark, dark film null and void of almost any humanity whatsoever. The vibe is best compared to the dream scene in Sonatine where Takeshi Kitano blows his brains out on the beautiful beach while smiling. It is a hard movie to watch, and there are times where it can drag slightly, but this is a one of a kind movie, and it will probably stay that way for many years.
The Package- Being filmed on DV, you get the typical noise and pixelation during the darker scenes, but most of this is kept in check. Actually, there are only a handful of scenes that look less that amazing. The 1080p transfer makes all the details, and especially the colors, pop, and considering the medium the overall picture is nothing short of flawless.
The disk comes with a DTS-HD Mono 2.0 track in Serbian language with English subs, which I don’t think were done in house because during the one English language scene of the movie, Serbian subtitles pop up. Regardless, the subs are great and void of any noticeable mistranslations, and the audio is balanced nicely.
You already know what to expect- the Synapse tabbed Blu-Ray layout. Again everything is legible and the menu is easy to navigate with full playback support.
The first of two hefty features is Made in Serbia, a feature length documentary by director Mladen Djordjevic on the Serbian porn industry. It is a very interesting look at something most of us didn’t even know had problems, and from what I can gather two 2x4 posts fucking would be hotter than a Serbian porno. The second is a Making Of, which was shot during filming and runs around 30 minutes. Then there are a few deleted scenes and the trailer. It’s worth noting the stand alone DVD release does not have the Made in Serbia feature, so if you have an option, the Blu-Ray is a far better pick-up.
Order from Synapse Films.