It turns out, everything you thought you knew about Femen is wrong.
Kitty Green’s insightful look into the Ukrainian protest organization is a documentary as matryoshka doll. Operatic bombast gives way to dignified resignation. Independence is weighed down with cultish reliance. And at the very heart of a feminist organization, you’ll find a patriarch.
That is, of course, the big reveal of Ukraine Is Not a Brothel: The breast-bearing troupe of activists is controlled by a man. But by the time the film gets around to interviewing the contemporary Rasputin, Victor Svyatski is largely beside the point. If he is an example of hypocrisy, the women of Femen are an example of nuance. Green does well in letting the women speak for themselves.
Fittingly, the story is told with brutal bareness, capturing scrapes after protests and uncomfortable family confrontations. In one harrowing scene, the protesters describe being doused in gasoline and left naked in the woods. Most importantly, the film reveals the psychic pores of the famously attractive members.
By looking beyond the headlines, Green ultimately celebrates choice. Svyatski may be the svengali, but it’s clear that the women have the guts.
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