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Of Freaks and Men

Po Urodov I Liudei

Alexi Balabanov’s latest film is a deliciously sour dissection of humanity, somewhere between horror story and fairy-tale.
A sinister stranger, Johan (Sergei Makovetsky), passes through passport control into the silent St. Petersburg streets, where he sets up a subterranean studio to produce pornographic photos which his henchman (Viktor Sukhorukov) sells to the bourgeoisie, including the households of railway engineer Radlov and humanist doctor Stasov. As Johan’s insidious ‘cultural’ influence grows, so does his confidence and power, not to mention his murderous brutality . . .
Cinematically, the closest cousins of this mesmerising period drama are the strange, dreamy period fabrications of the Soviet-satellite new waves of the 1960s. Balabanov’s film may have a more sexually explicit nature, but like them it seems to proffer tantalising hidden allegorical or metaphorical readings. Whatever, it is his provocative confidence and meticulous control of atmosphere that’s remarkable. Superbly acted, with an eerily expressive use of sound, it’s a fascinating, seductive spectacle.

Russia, 1998.
English subtitles.
Black and white. 93 mins.

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