6 April 2002 | Koli
Bleak but refreshingly different and evocative
In an era in which the video shop shelves and TV schedules are dominated by formula-pap, it is refreshing to find a film that stimulates thought for days afterwards. The question is: what's it all about? Is the film commenting on life in pre-revolutionary Russia, on the exploitation of 'freaks', on the corrupting power of pornography, or perhaps none or all of these? I came away from it thinking that the film was primarily about the ways in which film-making can be misused; that it examined the role of those drawn into 'the pornography industry' whether exploiter, exploited, or idealistic artist more interested in technique than subject matter. In thinking about that interpretation I found myself pondering the role of Putilov, seemingly an idealist; would it not be more accurate to describe him as amoral, as the artist determined to remain aloof from the degradation and humiliation required for completion of his projects?
I think the film raises questions about the extent to which the film-maker can remain untarnished by the moral issues that he purports to examine objectively and from a detached perspective. If Putilov agrees to co-operate in the filming or photography of the naked, frightened Siamese twins or of the whipping of a young woman can he really escape responsibility for their plight? Is he really entitled to walk away with his reputation intact? The immoral Johann is easier to condemn: he is a sadist who will kill at the drop of a hat to preserve his way of life and business. A jury would take much longer to decide its verdict on Putilov.