Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

A prominent documentary maker in his home country, Vitaly Mansky has demonstrated a keen eye for pop culture and the place of young adults in the new Russia. His best known work to date is a film examining Russia’s most famous music chart export, the pseudo-lesbian teen-duo T.A.T.u.

Virginity turns its attention to three provincial girls from modest, if not impoverished backgrounds, all over 18, who have protected their virginity as an asset, to be exchanged for whatever they believe will bring them a better life, be it money, celebrity or love.

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The first two girls alternate on the screen, giving candid testimonies of their reasons for retaining their virginity, and what they hope to gain by losing it. Kristina is self-possessed and articulate, but having expressed her desire to give herself to someone she feels something for, it transpires she will go to Moscow to try to enter a reality show, in which she must try to win the affection of one man in a houseful of scheming hopefuls (he having declared he’s looking for someone ‘pure’) and finds her ‘maidenhood’ the subject of scrutiny and catty criticism.

Karina is something quite out of this world. From her entirely pink bedroom, dressed in clothes modelled on Barbie, she declares that she has the personality and charisma, if not talent, to become a big-time celebrity, and she too sets out for Moscow.

The last girl, Katya, is portrayed in rather less detail, and in some respects her goal is the simplest. She is going to sell her virginity to anyone who will pay her a reasonable amount, and use the proceeds to study and start a career.

The testimony of the girls is interspersed with Mansky’s commentary, which at times provides a succinct analysis of a country riding high on a wave of unscrupulous, uber-individualistic capitalism. “Selling power has increased, as buying power has decreased,” he notes, and sure enough his young subjects have no means, but they are determined to elbow their way into the marketplace, for “when you are not present in the market, you don’t exist at all.” It’s unfortunate that his narration is too drawn-out, and begins to sound like a sermon. The atmospheric sequences without narrative are also too long, and the grainy texture and nauseating fast pans across neon cityscapes an unnecessary distraction.

There are some funny, and many gasp-drawing moments in this film, but the most painful viewing in the piece must be a lengthy interview of Katya, by far the most serious and business-like of the three girls, conducted in a car with the director in view. Mansky takes a more involved role in the footage of Katya than of the other girls - perhaps because her potential is more visible and so her actions a greater disappointment. But in a film that could already easily raise questions of the exploitation of his subjects, he looks like he’s cowing an already fragile young woman faced with some very stark and difficult choices.

None of the three girls are in desperate straits at the beginning of the film, but their stories have a sadness as great as their ambitions, and what’s more, their entry into the morally bankrupt marketplace that Mansky portrays is often sanctioned by their families.

While he obviously wants to show their actions in a negative light, his intrusive presence, through his narration and his physical self, gives him an air of a judgmental father. Yet despite his disapproval, he has enticed the participants with another promise of money or brief celebrity.

Virginity is a fascinating and horrifying intimation of the thoroughly material world we live in, but its impact is reduced by stylistic mistakes and dubious values.

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2008
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Three girls travel to Moscow to exchange their greatest asset - their virginity - for money, celebrity or love.

Director: Vitaly Mansky

Writer: Dmitry Bykov

Year: 2008

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Russia


Russian 2008

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