You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Of Freaks and Men

Insinuating itself into the viewer's mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, "Of Freaks and Men" is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it's too much ribald fun for "serious"art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno subject matter and stylized cinematography to catch any significant arthouse B.O. Its outside chance of success rests upon savvy exploitation of its undeniable qualities and quirky period parlor hijinx.

Cast:
Johann .....Sergei Makovetsky Lisa ..... Dinara Drukarova Ekaterina Kirillovna ..... Lika Nevolina Victor Ivanovich ..... Victor Sukhorukov Kolya & Tolya ..... Alyesha De and Chingiz Tsydendabayev Pytilov ..... Vadim Prokhorov Dr. Stasov ..... Alexandr Mezentsev Grunya ..... Darya Lesnikova Radlov ..... Igor Shibanov Darya ..... Tatyana Polonskaya

Insinuating itself into the viewer’s mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, “Of Freaks and Men” is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it’s too much ribald fun for “serious”art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno subject matter and stylized cinematography to catch any significant arthouse B.O. Its outside chance of success rests upon savvy exploitation of its undeniable qualities and quirky period parlor hijinx.

References for this picture, shot almost entirely in a tinted-sepia re-creation of period daguerreotypes, are tough to find, but one could look to David Lynch’s penchant for dwarves and Canadian cult auteur Guy Maddin’s oddball musings. Pic also bears strong stylistic resemblance to Steven Soderbergh’s ill-fated B&W “Kafka.” But “Freaks” contrasts strongly with all of the above in its fidelity to its sympathetic characters and the central premise that sex is the sinister undoing of both the innocent and the evil.

Two St. Petersburg families, one high-society and the other middle-class, come into contact with the strange, dour Johann (Sergei Makovetsky), a professional producer of still pornography which appears to be a booming trade in old St. Pete.

Railroad engineer Radlov (Igor Shibanov) is being treated for a heart condition by the upper-crust Dr. Stasov (Alexandr Mezentsev), but what binds them more than medicine is Johann’s hold on Radlov’s seemingly innocent daughter , Lisa (Dinara Drukarova), and the good doctor’s maid, Darya (Tatyana Polonskaya). Further linking the families is the secret relationship between engineer Radlov and his mistress Grunya (Darya Lesnikova), who is Johann’s sister.

Like a merry, malevolent middle man, Johann’s henchman Victor (Victor Sukhorukov) creeps between the households peddling the photos and developing his own lust for the illicit. The objects of his affection are Dr. Stasov’s adopted conjoined twins, Kolya and Tolya (Alyesha De & Chingiz Tsydendabayev), doted on by the doctor’s blind wife, Ekaterina (Lika Nevolina). She reveals her own kinks , which lead to the twins’ sexual coming of age.

Johann’s passion for Lisa, stymied by her father, turns to vengeful rage and culminates in sweet revenge when the engineer dies and puts Grunya in charge of his modest estate and soon-to-be-immodest daughter.

Thought-provoking, funny, disturbing and utterly involving, “Freaks” marks a terrific follow-up to Balabanov’s award-winning ’97 Russian box office hit, “Brother.” Cinematographer Sergei Astakhov’s carefully modulated and composed sepia-tone images are both disconcerting and hypnotically mood-enhancing. While the distancing effect may be counterproductive to the drama, it does lend an aura of the faded, forlorn days when the combination of sex and photography was new.

Of Freaks and Men

(PERIOD MELODRAMA -- RUSSIAN)

Production: A CTB production. Executive producer, Maksim Volodin. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris). Produced by Serguei Selyanov, Oleg Botogov. Directed, written by Alexei Balabanov.

Crew: Camera (B&W/sepia/color), Sergei Astakhov; editor, Marina Lipartia; production designer, Vera Zelinskaya; costume designer, Nadya Vasilyeva; sound, Maksim Volodin; makeup, Tamara Frid. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight) May 20, 1998. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: Johann .....Sergei Makovetsky Lisa ..... Dinara Drukarova Ekaterina Kirillovna ..... Lika Nevolina Victor Ivanovich ..... Victor Sukhorukov Kolya & Tolya ..... Alyesha De and Chingiz Tsydendabayev Pytilov ..... Vadim Prokhorov Dr. Stasov ..... Alexandr Mezentsev Grunya ..... Darya Lesnikova Radlov ..... Igor Shibanov Darya ..... Tatyana Polonskaya

More Film

  • Wong Kar-wai

    Wong Kar-wai Honored in Lyon, Talks Early Influences, Bruce Lee, Hong Kong Handover and Bigger Canvas for ‘Grandmaster’

    Insinuating itself into the viewer’s mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, “Of Freaks and Men” is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it’s too much ribald fun for “serious”art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno […]

  • 'Same Kind of Different as Me'

    Film Review: 'Same Kind of Different as Me'

    Insinuating itself into the viewer’s mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, “Of Freaks and Men” is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it’s too much ribald fun for “serious”art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno […]

  • Busan: Korea’s 'After My Death,' Iran’s

    Busan: Korea’s 'After My Death,' Iran’s 'Blockage' Win Competition

    Insinuating itself into the viewer’s mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, “Of Freaks and Men” is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it’s too much ribald fun for “serious”art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno […]

  • Progression Image 3 of 3: Final

    Film Review: Pixar's 'Coco'

    Insinuating itself into the viewer’s mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, “Of Freaks and Men” is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it’s too much ribald fun for “serious”art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno […]

  • Oliver Sacks Documentary

    Film News Roundup: Paul Allen's Vulcan Productions Backs Oliver Sacks Documentary

    Insinuating itself into the viewer’s mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, “Of Freaks and Men” is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it’s too much ribald fun for “serious”art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno […]

  • The Disaster Artist

    AFI Fest Adds Galas for 'Call Me by Your Name,' 'Disaster Artist,' 'Hostiles'

    Insinuating itself into the viewer’s mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, “Of Freaks and Men” is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it’s too much ribald fun for “serious”art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno […]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Colony Capital Has Three-Week Window to Avert Weinstein Co. Bankruptcy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Insinuating itself into the viewer’s mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, “Of Freaks and Men” is both a dark gem and a perplexing marketing conundrum. Pic will get fest kudos, but it’s too much ribald fun for “serious”art film lovers and too offbeat in its birth-of-Russian-porno […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content