Of Freaks and Men

Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Sergei Makovetsky, Dinara Dritikarova

Director: Andrei Balabanov

If you?ve ever had the misfortune to experience a Russian sauna – you may understand some of the sado-masochism in OF FREAKS AND MEN.

Stern Russian grandmothers – babushki – slap your naked body fiercely with birch sticks leaving your skin stinging with nasty red wheels. In Andrei Balabanov?s film it?s naughty young girls at the mercy of the birch stick – while photographers record the events in hazy toned prints. This is St Petersburg after Dostoevsky but before the Revolution; empty staircases and tall shadows captured beautifully in sepia coloured tones. Flash-gun effects cut between scenes and talkie-type captions reveal the story.

Johan (Sergei Makovetsky), a sinister German and his wicked henchman, Victor Ivanovich (Victor Sukhorukov) manage to infiltrate two well-to-do families, forcing an otherwise respectable young girl and a blind woman to act as models for their pictures. The maids in their service are as wicked as witches – arranging for the transfer of photographs and prostituting their charges with no remorse.

But Liza (Dinara Dritikarova), the young daughter of an engineer, who models for pictures is not completely an innocent pawn in the porn syndicate, so to speak. Nor Ekaternia Kirillova (Lika Nevolina), the blind Doctor?s wife – a victim of a loveless marriage seeking sexual fulfilment. In all of this are the pre-pubescent Siamese twins Kolya and Tolya (Alyosha De and Chingiz Tsydendabayev) who become the focus of Victor Ivanov?s vile curiousity. It is the scenes involving this fascination which are uncomfortable. In the world of early pornography they are as compelling as a side show – what would it be like if one were drunk – or if one wanted to fall in love?

This is the epileptic absurdity of Andrei Balabanov?s OF FREAKS AND MEN.

4 out of 6 stars