Review: ‘A.R.M. Around Moscow’

A.R.M. Around Moscow" explores a bizarre sidelight of post-Iron Curtain "free trade"-- the market for Eastern brides whose presumed "traditional feminine values" attract Western men uneasy with the liberated women back home. Unimaginative doc, currently making the rounds in specialized venues, should win over international fests and teleplay by virtue of lurid appeal of its engrossing subject.

A.R.M. Around Moscow” explores a bizarre sidelight of post-Iron Curtain “free trade”– the market for Eastern brides whose presumed “traditional feminine values” attract Western men uneasy with the liberated women back home. Unimaginative doc, currently making the rounds in specialized venues, should win over international fests and teleplay by virtue of lurid appeal of its engrossing subject.

A.R.M. stands for “American-Russian Matchmaking,” an org that’s sprung up to parade the former Soviet Union’s eligible femmes past suitors with cash to pony up –$ 3,000 due on wedding date, excluding earlier expenses. U.S. flak Ron Rollbrand brings groups to Moscow four times a year for cattle-call-like screenings, banquets and dating. Cutting a lowbrow Hefneresque figure, he sums up the lure by snapping, “This is not a debate,” at his own (very young, blonde, pretty) Russian mate as she tries to air an opinion.

Following one such trek from early beauty contest-like “heats” to various conclusions (one couple does get married), pic shows both sides of a dubious coin. The women are frank about drunken/slothful Russian men and economic hardships; they simply want a chance at a better life, with love as a hopeful bonus. Glimpses of home and professional life (a gynecologist says lack of effective contraception results in 10-15 abortions per client) provide illustrative background.

American men (faces often electronically scrambled) range from nerdy apparent nice guys to scarier sorts. Safe behind his anonymous silhouette, one says a previous marriage made him “understand” wife-beating, especially when “they” turn into “man-bashing” feminists.

Rollband frowns over U.S. women acting “more ‘equal’ than the men.” (A canny self-promoter, he marries fiancee Lydia on a TV talk show, yet afterward both speak ruefully about the “agony” of cross-cultural unions.)

Vid feature is competently shot and edited with an ambivalent tone that lets viewers draw their own conclusions. But lack of notable style or P.O.V. prevents larger scope. Why not include segs with past graduates of the program, or dig into stated rumors that some brides became abused domestic slaves? Parallels to similar wives-for-sale circuits in Asia and elsewhere go unnoted, as do current news reports of Eastern Euro/Russian women who accept blind job or marriage travel offers ending up in forced prostitution.

Neutral take is formally admirable, but the subject is so strong one half-wishes the filmmakers had plunked their own sentiments on the table. There’s a fascinating message here about “feminist backlash” and its underlying male insecurities that they decline to spell out. When some bright docmeister decides to make that movie, “A.R.M. Around Moscow” will provide rich fodder for clips.

A.R.M. Around Moscow

(Documentary -- Color)

Production

A Finely-Stoeltje production. Produced, directed, written, edited by Jeanne C. Finley, Gretchen Stoeltje.

Crew

Camera (color, video-to-film), Finley; original music, Marilyn S. Zalkan; sound, Phil Benson; additional camera, Julian Backus, Richard Fox, Morgan Barnard. Reviewed on vidcassette, San Francisco, Jan. 21, 1994. Running time: 75 min.
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