Blu-ray Review: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG (Synapse Films)

Charlie Hobbs, Contributing Writer
In all the hubbub surrounding the release of A Serbian Film, Mladen Djordjevic's similarly explicit The Life and Death of a Porno Gang was unfairly overshadowed and passed along. Porno Gang is every bit as subversive and explicit as A Serbian Film, but, for my money, Porno Gang is a much better film in the accomplishing of its goals. Where A Serbian Film had to prove its worth at every step in order to be taken seriously, Porno Gang's thesis is much more clearly laid out. In spite of the equivalent levels of offensive material, I haven't really seen anyone go after Porno Gang for being purely exploitative, which is quite a feat considering its content.

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang follows a group of performers across rural Serbia in the early part of the 21st century. These performers become part of a film project, the film is shot from a first person point of view on SD DV cam, and their exploits become more and more sexually explicit. When a shifty character approaches them with an offer to make astronomical amounts of money in exchange for incorporating real suicides in their films, it is too much for the team to pass up. Will they be able to shoulder the ethical burden they've brought upon themselves? This cogent look at post-Milosevic Serbia is among the most upsetting films I've ever seen in its rawness and deserves closer examination and discovery.

Djordjevic's film only compares with A Serbian Film in terms of their shared extremity and use of sexual power as a metaphor for oppression, however, they are very different films. A Serbian Film isn't a bad film, however, in my opinion it relies far too heavily on visual flourish and leaves the story to devolve toward the silly end of the spectrum. It seems as though that film was attempting to remain downbeat while repeatedly upping ante to the point of ridiculousness. Porno Gang feels more real. The first person shooting and lo-def camera work brings an immediacy to the work that isn't present in the impeccably art-directed A Serbian Film.

The progression of the story matched with the moral regression of its characters is both believable and sickening. Even though the story of more of a twisted fable than a work of historical fiction, it feels real enough to engage the viewer in the moral decisions and the style of the film really brings you in. I've now seen Porno Gang twice, once on German Blu-ray and now on this Synapse disc, and I can say that it doesn't get any easier the second time around.

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang isn't an easy film to digest. If you've got any kind of moral compass it will leave you with questions about your own world. If for no other reason, I can highly recommend Porno Gang simply because it's the kind of film that doesn't leave you when the lights go up.

The Disc:

As I mentioned in the above text, The Life and Death of A Porno was shot on (high end) consumer grade SD DV cameras, which means that the image quality on the Blu-ray is limited by its source materials. This is not native 1080p content, and it doesn't look fantastic. It does, however, look completely accurate to the director's intentions, which is more important. The disc also features the original stereo audio track, again, nothing that'll blow your mind, but accurate. Porno Gang isn't about all of the A/V flash, but if you're going in looking for something spectacular looking, you may be disappointed.

One of the best things about this release is the main extra, which is Djordjevic's previous feature documentary, Made In Serbia. Made In Serbia is a gonzo documentary about the underground porn industry in Serbia at the turn of the last century. There are definite stylistic influences that bore fruit in Porno Gang, but Made In Serbia still manages to stand on its own two feet. In addition to that we also get a making of featurette, some deleted scenes, a trailer, and reversible cover art. Made In Serbia is far and away the best part of the extras on this release, though.

It is worth nothing that Bildstorung's German Blu-ray has a considerable amount of extra material not featured on this disc including some of the director's previous documentary shorts, and around an hour of interviews. That set is quite expensive, but it is region free like this one.

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang
continues to haunt me, and I think it's only fair to share that with you, so pick it up today!
Special Features:
- MADE IN SERBIA (101 mins.) – Mladen Djordjevic’s feature length documentary on the Serbian adult entertainment industry. (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE!)
- “Making Of” Featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
- Alternate/Explicit Reversible Cover Art
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