London Film Festival: Of Freaks and Men

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Of Freaks and Men (dir Alexei Balabanov, starring Sergei Makovetsky and Dinara Drukarova)

Surely the most decadent movie wild-card yet played in Yeltsin's Russia, Of Freaks and Men appears to do everything wrong. It flaunts grand settings, bourgeois families, crime and early pornography, medical freaks and the abuse of women and children. It's shot in highly artificial sepia, and technology is nearly always seen as something ugly and disturbing. The only work which appears to be done is in a cellar, making autochromes of supine, flagellated women. There are no factories, war stories or ethnic peasants in sight. Perhaps some ethnicity is proferred by singing Siamese twins - Mongolians - otherwise there's little a Paradjanov would recognise.

Apparently, the Russians themselves reviled this film when it was shown recently at one of their festivals and, partly due to economic collapse (and partly not), the film has no Russian distribution. That is sad, because this ferocious, perversely loveable and original film, with Sergei Makovetsky as the evil sadist Johan who ensnares two respectable families in his grotesque schemes, has more art in its little finger than any of those saccharine Oscar-nominated products which Russia sporadically squeezes out.

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