Source: Filmske radosti
Exclusive interview with Mlade Đorđević for Berlin magazin „Splatting image”
Explicit sex, bestiality, rape, murder, snuff – your film deals with a lot of controversial, radical, violent issues. Although, it always seems to talk about a very concrete, dark reality. How much is the film’s narration based in the reality of Post-war Serbia?
Film is socially and politically engaged in context of contemporary Serbia. The consequences of the wars and my growing up in an era when seeing uncensored shots of war atrocities on TV was a normal thing, are obvious. This is a film about the battle between Eros and Tanatos, the forces of Life and Death. That battle is especially interesting within the space of Balkans, where Death is often the one to take over. To me, that darkness is not repelling, it’s attractive. I like those fallen characters and outsiders. That’s why this film doesn’t have exclusively local character. The outsiders are treated pretty much the same in every system. My characters are outcasts, and they are in that same position regardless to the political systems, which come and go. Film also dwells on one of the popular themes here in Serbia – clash between urban and rural Serbia. I have shown that the limits in-between the two are fuzzy and nonexistent. I didn’t want to make a black-and-white movie, I didn’t want to take sides.
Your film is filled with a feeling of urgency in the way it deals with its brutal themes – how personal (maybe even autobiographic?) a project was this for you?
Film is autobiographic in the sense that it follows a young director who is trying to get to his first feature film. Like me, he bumps into lots of difficulties and a challenge: to accept the compromise. In his case, as well as mine, that is not an option. The main character, being unable to make the kind of movies he’d like to, turns to the porn industry and starts making porn movies. That is an act of conscious and willing auto destruction, so that, through mud and hell, he could be redeemed. However, I was able to make movies I wanted to make, so I wasn’t forced to turn to porn, but there is a certain dose of auto destructiveness that I share with my main character.
Your first film “MADE IN SERBIA” was a documentary about the Serbian porn industry. Are the very dark sides of this industry, as you depict it in “ŽIVOT I SMRT PORNO BANDE”, based on experiences you made while working on “MADE IN SERBIA”?
Yes, Life and Death of a Porno Gang is in a way, the sequel to my previous film, the documentary Made in Serbia. Main characters are inspired by the characters of porn actors, their lives that are seen in the documentary. The shooting and editing of that documentary lasted for a year and a half. During that period, I got to know the domestic porn industry rather well. Of course, the “industry” part is pretty ironic, since it’s more of a manufacture. It’s all totally undeveloped, the films are made with no money, the actors are severely underpaid, they have trouble surviving, they live at the bottom of the social scale. Their bodies are undeveloped, unattractive. Made in Serbia is a moving social story before all other things, and my attempt to portray the contemporary Serbia through the provocative prism of porn industry.
What is it exactly that fascinates you about the theme of pornography and draws you towards this topic again, now for a fictional feature film?
I’m interested in pornography because of the fore mentioned clash between Eros and Tanatos. In pornography, Tanatos wins, while in eroticism Eros does. Pornography has that naked, raw, cruel approach to life and sex, which to me is attractive. It has that demystifying, banal longing which, in today’s context of the sterile European culture, appears to be less hypocritical then the masked, sleek and clean, mental pornography and banality, which hides behind the so-called refinement. On account of that naiveté that they have, porn movies remind me of the naïve art that I like.
Even though your film never loses its connection to reality, it is not only a realistic film, but also clearly marked as an “art movie”. What are you most important cinematic influences?
My film is socially and politically engaged, but I wanted to run away from the Balkans film cliché, where you have that only, nothing else. I took up to the challenge of connecting the domestic black wave tradition from the late ’60s – early ‘70s (Jovan Jovanovic, Zilnik, Pavlovic , Makavejev …) with the elements from contemporary Japanese horror film, American b-horror, films of Paul Morrissey, John Waters and Jodorowsky. I think it’s one interesting blend. I wanted to see how camp functions in the black wave mud. Japanese director Takashi Miike has to be mentioned here, as well as his film Visitor Q. He’s one of the most important artists in the film history and one of the most successful investigators in the field of sex and violence in cinematography. Another one is Serbian director Joca Jovanovic, author of the film Healthy and young like a rose, that has been bunkered in 1971. That movie is punk before punk was even defined.
How did you find the actors willing to give so much for the film?
The casting lasted for five months. My offer to be in the movie, or to appear at the casting at all, was rejected by in-between twenty and thirty actors. They were bothered by the explicit sex scenes, showing their naked body in front of the camera. That wasn’t the kind of mentality present, when our film workers are concerned, before the ‘90s, the spirit of the times was different. The provincial mentality prevailed. I was concerned with having bold, brave actors, who use their naked body without any prejudice, like an ordinary working tool, the same as their eyes, their hands, their voice. My first idea was to have the real porn actors from Made in Serbia playing characters in the movie, but it turned out to be impossible, because the characters I wrote were too complex to be acted by the people who are not professional actors (the dialog, the psychological subtleties…), and, also, the real porn actors are not easily attached to the serious moviemaking in Serbia. They live in a chaos, they have other different activities on a side, and the small amount of money I had to offer them (it’s a low-budget movie) wouldn’t be enough to tie them down, which would be a huge risk for me. So, if I couldn’t have the porn actors, It was important to me to have new, fresh faces, with a new energy. At the end of the troublesome process of choosing the actors, I had come to the young, brave, talented people who have introduced the spirit of the change in Serbian cinematography,
How difficult was it to get a film as radical as “ZIVOT I SMRT PORNO BANDE” financed?
Luckily, it’s a low-budget film, so I didn’t need that much money. The budget was around 140 000 euro. That modest a budget was in some ways in coordination with the esthetics of the film and it helped it loads. Consciously imposed production limitations, the problems linked with them and guerilla ways didn’t harm the outcome, but completely the opposite…For the kind of film this is, extreme and all, it’s hard to find sponsorships in Serbia, and I don’t believe the situation is much better around Europe. The only way to do it was to get the State funding. I had that luck, since that jury was pretty independent in deciding (which is extremely rare in our country), and also, the success of my previous film, Made in Serbia, helped me a lot during their decision process.
As far as I understand, the film was produced with the help of official film funding. How did that happen, and how much did the officials try to intervent in the process of film making?
There were no interventions during the shooting and editing, but there were some trap-attempts at the end. When I asked the Ministry of culture for the money for postproduction, the adviser of the minister of culture, our renown director Goran Markovic, intervened, and made it impossible for the film to be transferred to film. He didn’t understand the film and declared he couldn’t sleep after my movie and that he was disgusted. Provincial reaction, what can I say. But, the award Nebojsa Djukelic at the Belgrade film festival and the numerous glorious critiques, as well as my letter to the minister of culture, produced the change of the climate, so I got the money after all. I was also backed by our famous directors Joca Jovanovic, Zelimir Zilnik and Srdjan Dragojevic, who don’t find that kind of east-european-policeman-before-the-wall-fell thinking familiar, so it meant a lot for my eventual victory.
And how were the reactions when they saw the finished film?
The answer is in previous question.
Where was the film shown up to today? [Maybe you could also mention the Porn Film Festival?] And how were the reactions from the audience?
It was shown at the numerous foreign festivals: in Stockholm, Amsterdam, Ravenna, Pucheon *South Korea), Berlin, etc…In Ravenna, we’ve received the special award of the jury. Reactions vary from country to country. In Serbia, part of the audience always leaves the theater when the violent scenes begin. Now, the film is pretty infamous, so they come prepared and the viewers are the chosen ones. In South Korea (Pucheon Fantasy Film Festival), no one left. Very polite audience . Korean society is traditional and conservative. They don’t mind extreme violence, but they’re shocked by the explicit scenes of sex, they don’t like it. I’ve come to the conclusion: the more they hush down, hide Eros, the more, on the other side, it comes out in form of Tanatos, the violence and its bizarre quality. That’s why Korean films are so explicit when it comes to violence. At that festival, the selectors who backed my film and its promotion to the great extent, helped me a lot. In Amsterdam, where people live in cute houses made of chocolate, fifteen people or so went out at the first sign of violence. That continued during the “snuff” scenes. The ones that stayed until the end loved the film. Takashi Miike had a similar experience at the screening of his film Audition at the Rotterdam film festival. He warned the audience in advance: to the middle of the film, they will enjoy a nice, harmless story of a lonesome widower, but then, when the bizarre extremisms take place, they will start leaving their seats. That’s exactly what happened. Around the middle of the film, they started leaving the theater in large groups. I liked the reaction at the Berlin Porn film festival the most. Just to clear it out, one shoudn’t be prejudiced, it’s a serious festival dealing in artistic approach to pornography and eroticism, and takes place in a 100 years old theater. The director of the festival, Jurgen Bruning, is a producer of all the films of one of the greatest world-known underground authors, Bruce LaBruce. That’s where very serious audience, tired of clichés and in need of new stuff in film and willing to lose their mental and creative naiveté, gathers. Berlin is a real, great cultural center, ready to grasp and understand everything. I’m delighted by that city.
What are your further plans with the film? Do you think it will be possible to have it released theatrically?
The theater distribution in Serbia is taking place as we speak, it has lasted for two months already. Film is shown from the two copies only (since we didn’t have any more money), and it’s showing in late terms. By the end of December, it should start in theatres in our neighbour Croatia as well. About the rest of the Europe and the world, I don’t know yet. Some negotiations have been taking place, so we’ll se…