Of Freaks and Men (Pro urodo i lyudey, 1998)

Hong Kong DVD edition

Does this uniquely odd film have a message of some sort, and i don't know. Is it sleazy due to all the nudity displayed at times, or
is it sensual and juicy ? The answer is NO to both of the allegations. It's not juicy and sensual and its not sleazy even though there
are flogging of buttocks and depraved behaviour all around.

Aleksey Balabanovs movie is that artistically unique and surrealily strange and so gorgeously shot by Sergey Astakhov that this
film is a piece of visual art in itself, a fascinating painting of some sort. I found no theme of the movie with the possible exception
of that depraved and evil people more successfully influences their surroundings, their fellow men, than the good people can do.
Maybe we have a penchant for evil in us, for doing bad things ? Or maybe Balabanov just wanted to tell us a wicked tale and to
surprise us with the strangeness of it all. Yes, this was a delightfully weird and unusual film .... and in a good way then naturally.

From the Uniquely Strange Balabanov Universe

When i think of directors who have their own distinct filmic universe there are not that many names that pops up, a Luis Buñuel,
a David Lynch, a Takashi Miike (from his golden era appr. 1995-2005), a Jan Svankmajer or a Russ Meyer with his titanic women.
Do i have to say that among these idiosyncratic directors Balabanov is the most unknown. Why is that? I have no idea, but
maybe because he's russian ?
The Hollywoodified, anglo- and francophile pathetic excuses of film critics we have got here in my country, Sweden, seem to have
their gaze aimed at any direction except Indian Bollywood and Russia, our neighbouring country across the Baltic sea.
This disinterest is apalling when such a talented artist as Aleksey Balabanov is ignored. An amazing film like the 2007 Gruz 200
should've created a sensation upon its release, just as QT's "Pulp Fiction" or Park Chan-wook's "Old Boy" did within the world
of cult movies.

The film starts in black & white and without any sound and just as with old silent films with people moving fast and jerky, and then
turns to sepia colored pictures and with some sound even though with text frames explaining the ongoings. The cinematography
is exquisite, just beautiful and big kudos to Sergey Astakhov. The film is supposedly taking place in 2 different cities (but it seems
to be St. Petersburg regarding both) at the start of the 20th century and who seems strangely devoid of people, not just in the
city streets but also on the Neva.

After the above intro we find ourselves in a big elegant apartment next to a rainway yard from where we, all through the film, get
to see pictures of old steam trains. In this apartment widower and engineer Radlov (Igor Shibanov) lives with his daughter
Elizaveta Nikolayevna (Dinara Drukarova) and the housemaid Grunya.
There's an evil Pornographer at work in the city, the killer Johann (Sergei Makovetskiy) who, with the help of the equally evil
baldhead Ivanovich (Viktor Sukhorukov) has forced the legit photographer Putilov (Vadim Prokhorov) to handle the camera.
The theme of the taken pictures are smut (as on the DVD cover) but not admittedly hardcore pornography.
Also, we have the family Stasov with Dr. Stasov, his blind wife Jekaterina (Anzhelika Nevolina), the depraved maid Dariya
(Tatyana Polonskaya) who exposes herself to the singing Siamese twins Kolya and Tolya.

When engineer Radlov dies it is the housemaid Grunya (Dariya Lesnikova) who is appointed the task of handling young
Elizaveta's inheritance. Whoops! Not a good idea as Gruniya is the sister of evil Johann and soon the Radlov apartment has
turned into a den of depravity with Eliza and Jekaterina as porn models and the Siamese twins to freak models.
As in Balabanov's Gruz 200 people has become soulless shells of humans, in free fall morally. And, yes, it's really quite
depressing but still absurdly entertaining due to the black humour and unique idiosyncratic style of Aleksey Balabanov.

And what about the ending then, how to read that ? Maybe as if Satan has completed his work and satisfied drifts away on
an ice floe on the Neva against the city of St. Petersburg as backdrop. The possibilities for evil unlimited.
And now i know why the films of Balabanov fascinates me, he's a russian Luis Buñuel with his pessimism and black humour
The Hong Kong DVD presented the film in widescreen with russian 5.1 audio and with english subtitles and a Filmography


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