If you live in the U.S. and you’ve heard about The Life And Death Of A Porno Gang at all, it was probably through horror or underground film outlets.  It’s the kind of defiant, rabble-rousing item that so-called “indie” festivals here would shrink away from in mortal terror.  Thus, it has been tagged a piece of confrontational shock cinema and rejected out of hand in some cases, even by outlets that often embrace unusual films.  This is a shame because beneath the visceral shocks and the no-holds-barred sensibility, The Life And Death Of A Porno Gang is a film that is – believe it or not – rich in humanity.

The simplest way to explain the premise of The Life And Death Of A Porno Gang is that is about an artist trying to find his place in the world and discovering how hostile it can be to dreamers.  The protagonist is Marko (Mihajlo Jovanovic), a young Serbian man from a middle class background who wants to be a filmmaker.  Unfortunately, local film production is small and indifferent to his artsy projects.  He decides to be a subversive and goes to work for Maks (Srdjan Jovanovic), the country’s porn kingpin.  That career goes sour when he makes an artsy porno with Maks’ money that causes the kingpin to demand his money back.

With nowhere left to turn, Marko decides to hit the road.  He puts together a theatrical troupe with the help of Una (Ana Acimovic), a bit-part actress looking for adventure. Marko’s idea is to go from town and perform a politically-themed pornographic cabaret for rural villagers.  When the group meets with angry receptions and money runs low, the demoralized Marko finds himself accepting the offer of a shady businessman to make snuff films using willing victims that he provides (most are leaving the money make from getting killed to their families).  Marko and his troupe persevere with this strange side-career but discover that there is no such thing as easy money – and a corrupt, predatory society will find a way to its victims pay their debts.

The Life And Death Of A Porno Gang packs plenty of shocks: there are a few brutal gore effects, plenty of matter-of-fact nudity and a lot of sexual frankness (including some brief bits of hardcore footage).  It also takes on a deliberately rough style designed to enhance the queasy nature of these moments because the story is presented as footage from a documentary being made by the main character, with handheld photography and jump-cuts lending it all a “you are there” feel.

Fittingly, the script from director Mladen Djorjevic uses these elements in a pointed manner: the deaths of the snuff film victims are often proceeded by frank, often heartbreaking monologues where the victims explain why they no longer want to live.  In short, this is not a film that will go easy on you – and if that’s what you require, you should definitely tune out.

However, there is more to The Life And Death Of A Porno Gang than shock for shock’s sake.  It doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant because it is has sympathy for those who suffer and wants to make the audience share that feeling.  It might use black comedy as a coping tool but the film is also feels sorrow for those who have to suffer because a society deems them as strange and/or useless.  Indeed, Marko and his troupe are portrayed as brave souls who embrace life eagerly, doing their best to be honest about who they are, regardless of their consequences.  When their society dictates that they pay a heavy cost for this, Djorjevic isn’t afraid to confrontational about why it is unfair – and the results pack a punch that is as much emotional as it is visceral.

It helps that Djorjevic applies a lot of ambition to his limited resources.  The story is surprisingly complex, following a big ensemble over a lengthy period of time to create a big canvas for Djorjevic to explore his concerns upon.  The film is raw around the edges in technical terms but marrying those limitations to a film-within-a-film makes them work in its favor.  The cast is also quite good, with Jovanovic charting some complex emotional changes in a subtle way as the Candide-like hero and Acimovic adding some much-needed warmth as the actress who loves him.

The end result is definitely for a limited audience – but it has a lot to offer that audience and delivers it in an uncompromising and compelling way.  Simply put, The Life And Death Of A Porno Gang is a challenge worth accepting for fans of outré cinema.