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MIFF Film Review: Ukraine is Not a Brothel

Kitty Green’s film Ukraine is Not a Brothel is a very honest and delightfully composed documentary of Ukraine’s topless feminism awareness group, Femen. The film that was originally sparked by an article in a Melbourne newspaper was born of over 700 hours of footage; recorded whilst Green lived with these girls in Ukraine.

The movie follows the stories of the young women who protest in order to change Ukraine’s reputation of being full of female sex-workers and the perception that all Ukrainian women are controlled by men; they wish for females to be equal to men and have the same work opportunities.

It begins with quite an optimistic view of the girls, who each share tales of their involvement with the organisation, and how it affects them and their families, through interviews and footage of their bare-breasted protests. Each of the them are stunning, slim, model-like girls (apart from one, whose grossly overweight body is used for her ‘shock factor’ and publicity for the group) and the documentary sheds light on not only their courage in the faces of the public and hoards of pushy, old, male paparazzi, but also the hypocrisy within their own organisation. It ends with a bizarre twist, which unintentionally revealed itself over the course of the fourteen months of filming, that shows that even the most vocal feminist groups can be riddled with the very patriarchy that they protest against.

Without giving too much away, when watching you become aware of a shady male character named Victor, who remains hidden for majority of the film, but at the end allows us a brief insight into his involvement with the organisation. The girls also receive majority of their funding by ‘donations’ from wealthy businessmen, but choose to ignore the relevance of this.

Visually, Ukraine is Not a Brothel showed a very bleak Ukraine and used the subtraction of red from their footage to achieve this effect. It gives the impression that it is a cold, grey place with a lot of poverty, and uses these beautiful girls with colourful headdresses and body paint as bright beacons of hope. Many of the scenes show close-up shots of the bruises and scars that the girls receive as a direct consequence of getting dragged away by the authorities during their protests. These allow us to sympathise for the girls, who truly believe that baring their breasts is the only way out of their squalor conditions. 

Perhaps the only serious downfalls of the film are that it is very insular and provides no update of the girls now. The interviews are only centred around those directly involved with Femen and it would have been interesting, and perhaps added a different perspective, if we’d have received an insight into the opinions of the general public about these girls. We can only assume that these girls are as influential as they tell us. 

Ultimately the documentary was beautifully presented, with many stunning landscape shots of Ukrainian landscapes. I was really proud (and felt a little bit patriotic) knowing that a fellow Melbournian had made this gorgeous film. The positives certainly outweigh the few negatives of this film and is very deserving of a 4/5.


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