Review: ‘The Spot’

Three prostitutes eke out a desperate living in "The Spot," the third feature for producer-writer-helmer Yuri Moroz. Kudos are due the pic's troika of lead femmes whose gutsy, unselfpitying perfs carry the film through even its darkest spots. Such grim realism may find more favor abroad than at home.

Three prostitutes eke out a desperate living in “The Spot,” the third feature for producer-writer-helmer Yuri Moroz (“Black Square”). Hard-hitting pic is marred by an overly schematic screenplay and use of tacky power-pop ballads to hammer home the pathos, but even so, sometime-art director Moroz’s limns a harrowingly convincing portrait of Moscow’s brutal backstreets. Kudos are due the pic’s troika of lead femmes — Darya Moroz, the helmer’s daughter; Victoria Isakova, his wife; and Anna Ukolova — whose gutsy, unselfpitying perfs carry the film through even its darkest spots. Such grim realism may find more favor abroad than at home.

Action takes place during the World Cup in 2002. Extended flashbacks reveal how each of the women became prostitutes. Nina (Darya Moroz) grew up poor in one of Russia’s industrial backwaters. She’s seen as a child having the contents of a bedpan poured over her head by her mother, which would seem to explain why she shaves her head as an adult.

On her first day on the job in Moscow, she suffers severe injuries at the hands of a policeman to whom she’s assigned to give a freebie. Anya (Ukolova) takes her to the filthy flat she shares with fellow-working girl Kira (Isakova) to recover, and the three start sharing digs.

Anya, the one with the supermodel looks and the most sense, has grown to like her job. In one sweet scene, she and a regular client are seen arguing affectionately over a geometrical proposition; he’s one of the very few johns in the movie who isn’t a total bastard. (She’s later beaten and raped in a sequence which, for nausea inducement, rivals the subway attack in “Irreversible.”

A scene in which Kira is forced to have sex with a procession of clients, their faces glimpsed only in montage, recalls a similar device in Lukas Moodysson’s “Lilya 4-Ever.” Pic’s catalogue of cruelties is thankfully interspersed by the odd cheerful scene, but the script won’t let any moment of happiness goes unpunished for long; pic has little interest in showing the monotonous, nonviolent daily grind that makes up the bulk of most sex work.

Despite the sometimes grueling scenes they’re required to play, the lead femmes, all excellent, convince throughout as dignified, street-tough gals who can just about fend for themselves. Ekaterina Kozhevnikova’s well-researched production design, and grainy, handheld camerawork by Nikolai Ivasiv help to create a sense of accuracy. Sound design often cannily deploys silence for dramatic effect, which makes the periodic use of bombastic rock anthems all the more annoying.

The Spot

Russia

Production

A Central Partnership release of a Central Partnership, Colibri Studio production, with the participation of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography. (International sales: Central Partnership, Moscow.) Produced by Ruben Dishdishyan, Yuri Moroz. Directed by Yuri Moroz. Screenplay, Grigory Ryazhsky, Moroz, based on a novel by Ryazhsky.

Crew

Camera (color, Super16-to-35mm), Nikolai Ivasiv; editor, Anna Urabeza; music, Darin Sysoev; production designer, Ekaterina Kozhevnikova; costume desinger, Alexander Osipov; sound (Dolby Digital), Marina Nigmatulina. Reviewed at Open Russian Film Festival (competing), Sochi, June 10, 2006. (Also in Karlovy Vary Film Festival.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Darya Moroz, Victoria Isakova, Anna Ukolova, Elena Yakovleva, Mikhail Efremov, Mikhail Gorevoy.
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