Aleksei Balabanov has somehow found beauty in what could have easily been an alienating intellectual exercise. Instead, Balabanov created a complex portrait of sexuality, desire, ambition, and family in his exploration of early underground pornography.

Shot almost entirely in sepia-tone and featuring such sparse dialogue that it could almost be mistaken for a film from the era it depicts, were it not for the subject matter, Of Freaks and Men is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Freaks‘s biggest assets are in the opposing forces of its two leads; the sad Buster Keaton mug of Sergei Makovetsky and the broken menace of Viktor Sukhorukov. They basically play opposite emotional tenors of the same general sense of revolutionary exploitation, battling for the wills of their subjects and the medium. These men are just two more in the long line of those advancing the world (technological or otherwise) through the exploitation of others. They are pornographers pushing internet technology.* They are colonialists utilising new natural resources. They are the corporations lobbying against the interests of the people in congress.

The only difference between Makovetsky and Sukhorukov is that the second attacks his task with sadistic glee, a panicked, desperate fear that, without him, the dreams of civilisation may not be realised. The first, however, enacts his business with a resigned melancholy, a seeming acceptance of his ill-nature and the knowledge the time is a cruel beast, moving forward with no regard for man. The future has always been there, and it always will be, regardless of who makes the first move.

*This is a simplified example. I don’t think all pornography is bad. Grey areas. Paid word. Sex-worker positive. Lots of things.

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