Prostitution, Statistics And Harangues, 13 November 2009
“Prostitutka” (1927) is a Bolshevist silent rarity, unusual because of its subject matter, that being prostitution in the U.S.S.R. The world’s oldest profession requires a treatment both delicate and balanced, not an easy topic for a first time director like Herr Oleg Frelikh. Actually, this little known work was Frelikh’s only film as a director (prior to this, he had been an actor) and it’s a flawed but interesting effort.
The film was the first production of the national studio “Byelgoskino” one of the newest studios of that time in the U.S.S.R.; indeed it was a company every bit as green as Herr Frelikh and this shows in the fragmented, sometimes chaotic film composition which lacks narrative cohesion. In spite of these problems, the first part of the film is most interesting, depicting the social conditions and the causes that lead our heroine, Liuka ( Frau Olga Bonus ) to sell her body. The social conditions she endures and the characters she encounters are credible. There is poverty and misery but also redemption. It seems that the consequences and causes of prostitution in the U.S.R.R. are very similar in their origins to the rest of the world, although there is additional suffering for the Russian prostitutes because of the cold and snowy streets; a hard place to offer oneself in the open air..
But the film also includes those techniques that the old U.S.S.R. silent films liked so much: statistics and harangues. So this means that, in the middle of the film while our heroine is trying to start a new life as a seamstress, she gets the chance to hear a lecture about prostitution, complete with graphs, numbers and percentages. These are intertwined with a long-winded speech about the social conditions that cause prostitution and the remedies to avoid such problems; thus the film turns into a kind of bulletin from the U.S.S.R.’s Ministry of Health And Family Welfare. That all may be very interesting in terms of historical and social content but it does not belong in a fictional movie.
“Prostitutka” is a Russian oddity that deserves some attention for its open treatment of the prostitution problem but Herr Frelikh’s erratic direction does not live up to the good intentions of the film which in the end is an uneasy mixture of drama and indoctrination.
Subtitles:Russian, English & Chinese intertitles