Berlin-based boutique sales outfit M-Appeal has acquired erotic drama “Fidelity” (Vernost), a Russian female version of Steve McQueen’s “Shame.” Nigina Sayfullaeva’s film – a box-office hit at home for Sony Pictures – will have its international premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January.

“Fidelity” centers on Lena, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and her husband Sergey, who is an actor in a provincial theater. Their relationship is tender and close, but devoid of sex. Lena suspects that he is having an affair, but she suffers in silence without letting her jealousy show. She starts cheating on him with random men, and slowly but surely, her infidelity spins out of control.

The film has attracted much comment in the media and social media in Russia, where the issue of female sexuality is less openly discussed than in the West. Russian film critic Anton Dolin said the film “is a revolution because such a degree of openness and sensitivity has never been seen before in Russian film.”

Sayfullaeva said: “I wanted to explore the phenomenon of female infidelity and to figure out the controversial motivation of a woman. There are a lot of positive notions of a loveable man in the Russian language – a charmer, a womanizer, a hero-lover, ‘he is polygamous by nature’… But if a woman is cheating – she is diagnosed as a slut and prostitute. I am not trying to make excuses for my heroine. Her behavior is immoral and she hurts her partner. But it was crucially important to me to show the story in a more comprehensive and voluminous manner. To break stereotypes, but not pass sentence on my heroine.”

Sony Pictures released the film on Oct. 31 on a wide 630 screens in Russia and CIS, where it has grossed $1.6 million so far – a high tally for a Russian adult drama with an 18+ rating.

Maren Kroymann, CEO of M-Appeal, said: “For me as a Western woman it was revealing to see how female sexuality is still stigmatized and a taboo in Russian society. In one of the most important cultures in the world, three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation period of the 90s, it seems women still can’t be open about their sexual desires, without being morally devaluated.

“It is the first Russian film to tackle the subject of female sexuality so openly and honestly, with a female gaze. ‘Fidelity’ is a revolution for Russia, the incredible success in the cinemas shows this. I am very happy to present this controversial film to international audiences worldwide.”

The film was written by Sayfullaeva and Lyubov Mulmenko. The cast included Evgeniya Gromova, Aleksandr Pal, Aleksey Agranovich, Anna Kotova, Marina Vasileva and Pavel Vorozhtsov. The pic was produced by Sergey Kornikhin and Valeriy Fedorovich for Droog Drooga Film Company and TNT Premier Studios.

Sayfullaevas’ debut “Name Me” (2014), also co-written by Mulmenko, was described in its Variety review as “an adeptly played debut in which a yearning for paternal affection plays out against a background of teenage sexual manipulation.” The film played in San Sebastian Film Festival’s New Directors section.