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Friday, June 28, 2013

PRO URODOV I LYUDEY / OF FREAKS AND MEN (1998)

The late Russian writer/director Aleksey Balabanov sets this strange, bewitching, ultimately confounding story of corruption, dependence & pornography in a sepia shrouded Pre-Revolution St. Petersburg. It’s really an amoral cautionary tale about society’s illicit desires. A doctor whose blind wife ignores him, preferring to coach the singing boy-soprano Siamese twins he adopted as infants. A widowed engineer with a bad heart who finds chaste love and an executor for his estate in his housemaid, leaving his grown daughter under the servant’s financial protection. The secret brother of the housemaid, a serial pornographer who specializes in S&M-lite, with elderly spankers who whip the naked bottoms of delectable young ladies. A list of bums soon to include the blind wife and the engineer’s orphaned daughter. It’s an unlikely group, yet Balabanov turns the oddest episodes into sexual mind-game roundelays with alternating upper-hands and, eventually, absurd tragedies as endgame. Balabanov steers us thru these dreamlike destinies with a master’s control of pacing , composition and silent-film grammar, memorable and inexplicable. Balabanov, only 54 at his recent death, is best known for violent films about crime in modern Russia, but this might prove a better entry point for many.

DOUBLE-BILL: David Cronenberg’s Freud/Jung bio-pic, A DANGEROUS METHOD/’11, didn’t quite work. (Keira Knightley is quite the stumbling block.) But its concerns and obsessions might look clearer after this.

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