Life and Death of a Porno Gang

I’ve submitted my proposal for the SCMS conference next March. It’s part of a panel that Zoran and I have organized on post-war Serbian film.

After Hope: Life and Death of a Porno Gang
Mladen Djordjevic’s Life and Death of a Porno Gang (Serbia, 2009) contains explicit depictions of sex and violence, including scenes of rape, murder, the making of “snuff films,” and suicide. In its extremity, the film shares many characteristics with the transgressive art cinema of Western Europe and East Asia that has received so much critical attention in recent years (e.g. Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, Takashi Miike’s Audition, Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy). However, Life and Death of a Porno Gang differs greatly from these other films for reasons that have much to do with its particular geographical and historical location (in post-socialist and post-civil-war Serbia), and with the types of economic and political investments that it explores. Djordjevic’s protagonists (an aspiring young film director, and the group of actors and sex-industry performers with whom he works) find themselves caught between the corrupt gangster capitalism of the new social order and the repressive traditionalism of the old peasant Serbia. In such conditions, what starts out as a voyage toward potential sexual and social liberation (implicitly referencing Dusan Makavejev’s great 1972 film WR: Mysteries of the Organism) turns into a nightmarish, nihilistic flight towards oblivion. But if Life and Death of a Porno Gang is not a liberatory film, it is also not a transgressive one. In contrast to the extreme cinema of Western Europe, it does not accord any aesthetic or moral efficacy to the excesses that it depicts. There is no self-congratulation at the rupturing of taboos. Rather, Life and Death of a Porno Gang portrays, and embodies, the aesthetic and moral impasse that results from a social atmosphere of cynicism and demoralization. This atmosphere is the result, not just of the horror of the nationalist wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia, but also of the general process under which the formerly socialist nations entered, upon unequal terms, into the world of Western capitalism. All this becomes apparent both in the narrative content of the film and in its stylistics (which combine a pseudo-documentary, hand-held-camera look and feel with an oddly elliptical editing strategy). Life and Death of a Porno Gang speaks of, and to, a time when hope has been exhausted, and when it seems that There Is No Alternative (what Mark Fisher calls “capitalist realism”). If it does nonetheless suggest a way out from the universal rule of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, this is only because it speaks so marginally and so obliquely, from a position of humiliation and opprobrium.

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