Of Freaks and Men

Of Freaks and Men


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There are moments in this deliciously subversive film when you suspect Alexei Balabanov is being satirical and those scenes of pornographers taking over the grand houses, only to corrupt them with their nasty habits, refer to organised crime's stranglehold on the Russian economy, not to mention the state of the nation.

The film is shot as a pastiche of silent cinema, without Chaplin's famous fast motion. In old St Petersburg the bourgeoisie live innocent and privileged lives, while in the basement of an abandoned building tight-lipped Johan (Sergei Makovetsky), with his smirking, sinister sidekick (Victor Sukhorukov), organises nude spanking sessions, which are photographed and sold to sado-masochistic postcard collectors, when not purloined by their naughty maids.

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The kind doctor has adopted asiatic Siamese twins, who are reaching puberty and being taught to sing. His elegant wife is blind and won't have anything to do with him under the bedclothes. The gentle widower, who is reputed to be a railway engineer, lives with his lovely daughter (Dinara Drukarova), blissfully ignorant of Johan's true nature, or what he gets up to when unsupervised. Soon both these honourable men will be gone and the circumstances of those left behind changed irrevocably changed, not always (if ever) for the better.

When evil triumphs, humour turns black. Glimpses of turn-of-the-century porn has an uncomfortable, humiliating look to it. Balabanov massages human nature's ugly heart. The film is so original and startling, it appears playful, when really it concerns an abuse of power that feeds off trust and decency, perverting both.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Of Freaks and Men packshot
The porn industry in pre-revolutionary Russia.
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Director: Alexei Balabanov

Writer: Alexei Balabanov

Starring: Sergei Makovetsky, Dinara Drukarova, Lika Nevolina, Victor Sukhorukov

Year: 1998

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Russia/US


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