Sunday, June 10, 2012

Steven Shaviro: After Hope -- The Life and Death of a Porno Gang

After Hope: The Life and Death of a Porno Gang
by Steven Shaviro

Mladen Djordjevic's Life and Death of a Porno Gang (Serbia, 2009) contains explicit representations of sex and violence, including scenes of golden showers, zoophilia, animal slaughter, rape, murder, wartime atrocities, the production of snuff films, and suicide. In its extremity, Porno Gang has a lot in common with its sister film, Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film (2010), with which it shares a cinematographer (Nemanja Jovanov), as well as the plot premise of porno actors lured into making snuff films. Both of these movies allude, at least implicitly, to the American torture porn franchises of the past decade (the Hostel series and the Saw series). They also bring to mind the controversial but highly visible and critically acclaimed transgressive art cinema of Western Europe and East Asia, including such works as Gaspar Noë's Irreversible (2002), Pascal Laugiers's Martyrs (2008), Lars von Trier's Antichrist (2009, below), Takashi Miike's Audition (2000), and Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy (2002-2005).

However, Life and Death of a Porno Gang stands out among all these films for a number of reasons. It is unique in terms of its style, in terms of its particular geographical and historical location, and in terms of the types of social and economic conditions that it explores. In the first place, Porno Gang rejects both the commercial-genre functionalism of movies like Hostel, and the art-film self-consciousness of directors like Noë and von Trier. Instead, it adopts an informal, low-budget aesthetic; it has the look and feel of a video documentary. The film is largely shot in natural light, in real locations, with small, handheld video cameras, the same kind of cameras that the characters within the film themselves use. In this way, Porno Gang picks up from Djordjevic's previous film, Made in Serbia (2005), a downbeat documentary about the small size and limited horizons of the Serbian porn industry. Porno Gang retains its predecessors' look and feel, as well as subject matter, even though it is a fictional film, entirely scripted and staged.

Life and Death of a Porno Gang also stands out for the way that it tends to shy away from, and representationally underplay the horrific violence that it nonetheless explicitly depicts. This is its biggest difference from A Serbian Film, which presents its depraved visions with a hallucinatory hyperrealism, often pushed to the point of campy excess. In contrast, Life and Death of a Porno Gang remains largely naturalistic, and is not edited for shock value. Indeed, Djordjevic's editing style is oddly elliptical; it gives us buildups, but it often cuts away before the horror it depicts has had enough time to register in its full intensity. Porno Gang neither dwells on its carnage with long takes and a fixed or slow-moving camera, nor riles up its viewers with rapid, disjunctive montage. Instead, there is a kind of everydayness to its horror. The film records the experiences of its characters in a manner reminiscent sometimes of a first-person video diary, and other times of reality television. The film's most shocking moments emerge from this background of everydayness, and then quickly recede back into it.

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