For a few years the Femen Movement in Ukraine has been trying to raise awareness for gender and feminist issues worldwide. Thanks to provocative and risky happenings, often acted out bare-breasted in public places, the press has been jumping on the movement with an endless greed for spectacular and bizarre photos.
When the documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel premiered in Venice it had, of course, festival written all over it. Therefore, it was not a big surprise when director Kitty Green and the present members of the group used their moments of publicity to promote Femen as much as the film.
But the movie itself could not be further away from promotion. It is a great piece of cinema dealing with the whole complexity of the movement, searching for truths behind its attractive surface and actually finding it. Kitty Green tells the story of the fearless women behind the protest.
She interviews them and one gets to know quite common women who simply hate the way gender issues are treated in their country. They are presented as naïve and yet reflective. They appear strong and yet still dependent.
The paradox about the Femen movement reaches its limit, more than halfway through the movie, their leader Victor Svyatski appears. Until then the movie is a worthwhile glimpse at an interesting topic but as soon as the strange patriarch behind Femen comes into focus, it reaches out for more.
The controversial, self-proclaimed "father of new-feminism" is not only a fascinating character, but even more he raises questions about the nature of the movement and feminism as such. Femen is presented as a group of activists that is organized in exactly the same way as the organizations it protests against.
The girls work as dancers in night clubs, they do exactly as they are told by Victor, and most of them have to be good looking to be part of the protests. Given the success of Victor and his girls in raising awareness, one can see the moral dilemma the film addresses. And Ukraine is Not a Brothel is not shy about using the same strategies to get attention like the movement. Green films the girls more than once naked in their home without any apparent reason. The slogan seems to be: If you have their eyes, you may get their ears.
In terms of cinematography, the movie is top-notch. The pictures look stunning and give a great sense for the characters and their surroundings. Considering the wreaking beats and some fine montage sequences Ukraine is Not a Brothel sometimes resembles the milestones of revolutionary cinema from Eisenstein to Solanas. It gives the feel of revolution and action, and therefore is a great portrait of the feminist energy.
In the end, there is a new beginning and the question remains where the girls and Femen are heading. With this film, directed by a female director, they take a step in a less paradoxical future. But related to cinema, they simply succeed.