March/April 2015  (Volume 30, Issue 2)

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel

(2013) 78 min. In Ukrainian & Russian w/English subtitles. DVD: $300. DRA. Film Platform (avail. from PPR.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Ukraine’s feminist movement is the subject of Kitty Green’s critical, yet sympathetic documentary about Femen, an organization formed in the wake of Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union that aims to shed light on the hardships faced by Ukrainian women. Over the ensuing years, many women left the country to work as prostitutes in the West, while today many foreigners also visit the Ukraine to frequent its brothels. Femen focuses on sex workers who have been the victims of human trafficking, but their methodology is questionable at best (Femen member Yana, for instance, is an exotic dancer, but doesn’t feel that she has other options). They also take orders from a man named Victor, who proclaims, "These girls are weak." Femen’s signature act of civil disobedience is the topless protest, which naturally attracts attention, although not necessarily for the intended reasons. At these events, male photographers take pictures, male observers hurl insults ("Whores! Prostitutes!"), and male police officers haul the women away. But it’s hard to tell if the women they seek to liberate actually appreciate their actions. According to Femen member Inna, "Nobody in this country wants to listen to women, but everyone wants to see beautiful, sexy women." They also sell t-shirts, mugs, and bags, and receive charitable donations—mostly from men, such as a Turkish lingerie manufacturer, who welcomes the publicity. Inna even refers to their followers as fans rather than supporters. A woman named Irina agrees with Femen’s aims, but she left the group because she doesn’t believe nudity is necessary. Femen’s next goal is to take over the leadership from Victor. Once they do that, it may be easier to take them more seriously. An interesting profile of an unconventional feminist group, this is recommended. Aud: C, P. (K. Fennessy)