UKRAINE AND WOMEN at Hot Docs 2014 - PART ONE: LOVE ME
Beyond the myriad of films focusing upon Ukraine that are screening in the Toronto Hot Docs 2014 International Festival of Documentary Cinema, the past few years have yielded a ludicrous number of pictures training their lens upon the beleaguered nation. For all intents and purposes, Ukraine has always remained a colonized entity, even in its years of "freedom" since the fall of communism. With the recent and miraculous revolution in Kyiv's Maidan and the subsequent assault upon Ukraine's borders by Russia, the country's most powerful enemy (and frankly, the greatest threat to all of Eastern Europe), one can only imagine the floodgates opening full throttle on Ukraine-centred docs. My hope, however, is that two of the very best films to focus on Ukraine, Love Me, by Jonathon Narducci and Ukraine is Not a Brothel, by Kitty Green, stay first and foremost ahead of what is, and will be, an over-crowded pack.
Love Me (2014) ****
Dir. Jonathon Narducci
Review By Greg Klymkiw
The world of mail-order brides is the focus of Jonathon Narducci's thorough and affecting film. Using the online dating service "A Foreign Affair" as the door into this world, Love Me focuses upon five men (3 schlubs, 2 not-so-much) who dump thousands upon thousands of dollars on the company's services. From membership fees to per-transaction fees for the online aspect of the service to the actual whirlwind guided tours to Ukraine, Narducci expertly wends his way through a massive amount of material and subjects, but does so with impeccable skill and movie-making savvy.
The company is run by a real-life married couple (the fella's American, the lady's his Russian "mail-order" bride) and it surely looks like a license to print money with all the come-hither ads of scrumptious young Ukrainian ladies beckoning Western fellas to marry them. And in case anyone has any doubt prior to gazing at the swimsuit photos of these Babunya-to-be, let's never forget the Beatles' immortal lines from the song "Back in the U.S.S.R." which clearly declares:
"Those Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the West behind…"
Well, in the case of a few of the Ukrainian gals the movie focuses upon, they literally leave the West behind since a great many of these braided-ladies adorned in veenoks-masquerading-as-devil-horns are clearly looking for Western men to come over, dump wads of dough on them, then dump the guys when things get way too serious. Yes, it's a scam, but given the poverty in Ukraine as well as the country's backwards patriarchy, I couldn't actually blame these ladies as they scored scads of greenbacks from mostly middle-aged, paunchy Mama's Boys from North America.
One of the men is from Australia and the manner in which he gets taken for a ride is so ludicrous (on his part) that it's almost laughable. Not that Narducci is ever unfairly slanting his POV to engender feelings of mockery and/or derision at these men (and the old Aussie in particular). His camera rolls from a perfectly positioned fencepost and captures the obvious that seems beyond the purview of the fellas.
The woman who takes the Oz-dweller for a ride is, in every shot, so clearly bored, contemptuous, disgusted and borderline hateful towards him, you keep saying to yourself, "Uh, mate, are you really that blind?" When she has to hug or kiss him, she's in total recoil-mode. In a horrific sequence where they actually get married, her utterance of the matrimonial vows might as well be, "Well, let's toss another kubassa on the barbie." However, when our mate from Down Under eventually reveals, long after the wedding and not hearing from her for months after she stays in Ukraine, that he's a trifle concerned that the marriage has never been consummated, I can't say I felt at all sorry for him. Then again, I've seen first-hand the horrific conditions many Ukrainian women live in over there, the exploitation and lack of regard for them as human, so perhaps I'm a tad biased when well-to-do old men from the Western World get soaked. My only response was, "Well, let's chalk up another win for Ukrainian women."
I do, however, place a bit too much emphasis on the scam-aspect of the mail-order business, though, because Narducci also features a couple of prominent examples where the service provided by "A Foreign Affair" actually works. Chemistry and luck play a humungous part in the process and this, frankly, is how it works out in real life anyway. Using "A Foreign Affair", however, can speed up the luck and chemistry thing by presenting an atmosphere for romance to blossom. One couple seem genuinely suited to each other and though there might be a bit more "convenience" going on for both parties than deep love, there's certainly compatibility taking front seat and for now, in terms of what we experience within the context of the film, the new hubby and wife look like they're going to be happy - at least for awhile.
The highlight of the film, though, is a genuine Prince Charming and Cinderella romance which is so tender, so sweet, so moving, that it feels like it has Hollywood chick-flick written all over it. The gent is handsome, well-to-do, good-humoured and intelligent. The lady is his female counterpart in all these things. One sequence has her visiting the Lavra (a kind of Orthodox Vatican in Kyiv) to offer blessings and prayers of thanks to God when it is clear she's on her way to a new life in American with a man she really loves. It's so damn moving, I know at least one Ukrainian film critic from Canada who squirted geysers of tears.
I suspect there might be a few others who will also shed a few pickle-barrels full of tears and they don't necessarily have to be Ukrainian, nor film critics.
Love Me is playing at Toronto's Hot Docs 2014. ALL UKRAINIANS BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW. UKRAINIANS MUST, AS THEY ALWAYS DO, BUY EVERY AVAILABLE TICKET, THEN THEY MUST, AS UKRAINIANS ALWAYS DO, SHOW UP AT THE CINEMA SEVERAL HOURS BEFORE THE SHOW BEGINS, LINE-UP, AND THEN, TAKE THEIR SEATS THE SECOND THE DOORS OPEN AND SIT THERE UNTIL THE BITTER END. HOWEVER, UNLIKE EVENTS IN UKRAINIAN CHURCH BASEMENTS, THERE WILL NOT BE TORTES AND KAVA SERVED UP, SO BRING YOUR OWN TO EAT IN THE LOBBY AFTER THE MOVIE. UKRAINIANS WHO ACTUALLY HAVE INTERNET, CAN BUY THEIR TICKETS by visiting the Hot Docs website HERE. UKRAINIANS WITHOUT INTERNET MUST GO DOWNTOWN TO THE HOT DOCS BOXOFFICE AND BUY THEIR TICKETS IN PERSON. (Then again, those Ukrainians without internet won't be reading this, so perhaps there will be plenty of tickets for NON-Ukrainians.)
GLOSSARY TO UKRAINIAN TERMS USED IN REVIEW ABOVE:
are you a moron?
this is not a Uke word