DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2009: Kirot

Thursday, 17 September 2009

TIFF 2009: Kirot

Kirot (2009) Dir. Danny Lerman
Starring: Olga Kurylenko, Ninet Tayeb and Vladimir Friedman


Guest Review by Greg Klymkiw

When Galia, a ravishing, raven-haired, almond-eyed, high-cheek-boned Ukrainian prostitute firmly and proudly demands the restitution of her passport and monies owed, a grotesquely evil and dripping-with-rancid-gooey-oil-of-slime Israeli pimp snarls at her with contempt, “Nothing is yours.”

In a cold, mantra-like timbre he adds: “I own you. I own your pussy. I own your soul.”

In reality, this prostitute would be beaten and forced to keep turning tricks until she was so used up and strung out that she’d receive a bullet to the head and her body would be burned to ash and scattered to the winds of Israel.

But this is a movie.

And the talented, criminally, insanely and mind-numbingly gorgeous Ukrainian model and actress (and Bond girl from “Quantum of Solace”) Olga Kurylenko plays the role of Galia the prostitute and Galia (with pouty lips, leather jacket and an itchy trigger finger on a smoking second generation Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol) is not going to take this lightly. She’s suffered too much and there’s more than just her life and dignity at stake. She has a new friend, Elinor (played by the talented, criminally, insanely and mind-numbingly gorgeous Sephardic Israeli pop star Ninet Tayeb), a pregnant neighbour who needs to be saved by her brutal abusive husband.

Rest assured, things will blow up real good.

The movie is “Kirot” (the Hebrew word for “walls”) and as written and directed by the talented Israeli filmmaker Danny Lerner, it’s a picture that does for Ukrainian prostitutes enslaved in the sex trade what Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Bastards” does for the Jews in Nazi Germany. It’s a brutal, fast-paced and stylish thriller that delivers all the goods any action fan would want, but also manages to do it with evocative characters and having something to say – not in any dull didactic manner, but with all the sizzle and steak one would ever want from a genre picture.

The sexual slavery imposed upon Eastern European women is a subject that’s finally getting its big screen due this year. Other than a TV movie or two and Lukas Moodysson’s powerful 2002 feature drama “Lilja 4-Ever”, this is subject matter that the movies have been reluctant to tackle. But this year we’ve seen Liam Neeson decimating Albanian pimps in the surprise hit “Taken” and the Slovenian drama “Slovenian Girl”. “Kirot” joined this smattering of pictures devoted to the subject of women who are kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery as the opening film of a new City to City series focusing on Tel-Aviv at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a fresh and welcome take on the subject – just the sort of thing that movies seem to be made for.

It’s been several years since hard-hitting investigative journalist Victor Malarek shocked the world with his powerful non-fiction book “The Natashas” – a book that brought the issue of contemporary sexual slavery to the forefront of the world’s consciousness. In his book, Malarek focused on the real Israeli pimp “Tarzan” and how women from Eastern Europe were being duped and/or outright kidnapped and forced to work as sex slaves. Malarek reported on every disgusting detail – from the “breaking-in” period wherein women are raped into submission, forced to serve hundreds, if not thousands of clients, have their passports stolen and receive threats of violence towards their family if they don’t submit and in Israel, are forced to engage in un-protected sex with “devout” Orthodox johns who refuse, for cultural/religious reasons to waste their seed (as it might offend God).

“Kirot” is not only a rip-roaringly entertaining movie, it’s an important one since it might well be the first mainstream picture to reach a wide audience and bring this issue to light.

Make no mistake, though. It’s brutal. The treatment of women at the hands of the Israeli pimps is sickening. While the movie does not go into the same graphic detail as Malarek’s book (thank the God of Abraham!), the opening few minutes contain some of the nastiest depictions of violence against women I’ve seen in quite some time. But, take heart, gentle souls, when Miss Kurylenko starts brandishing her gun, the satisfaction level will skyrocket amongst even the most liberal sensibilities.

Lerner paints a grimly realistic underworld portrait – a world of cheap rooms, dark, wet streets and gold-chained scumbags. There are no police, no law enforcement – why should there be? Most countries turn their back on this issue by paying mere lip service to it. In fact, the Israeli government is one of the biggest offenders here – in some cases, actually charging the sex slaves with prostitution and deporting them back to their home countries, further stigmatizing and torturing them. Luckily, governments are not the people and it’s taken the brave effort of Jewish women’s groups to fight this scourge head-on. (One more reason why we should NEVER confuse government with individuals and/or groups.)

The movie opens with an extreme close-up of Galia’s fiery eyes as she sits sullenly in a tacky whorehouse. Her “employer”, Mishka (Vladimir Friedman), orders her to smile. She forces one and escapes at the first opportunity. Upon recapture, she is beaten, and then promised a choice – make a “hit” or two and all will be forgiven. If she refuses, her infant daughter in Ukraine will be kidnapped and forced to work as a child prostitute.

What’s a girl to do? She dolls up, girds her loins and dives in headfirst. She’s set-up in an apartment, given cash, new duds and a chance at freedom. Alas, with pimps, and the underworld in general, there’s never such a thing as freedom and after she makes her first kill, she’s strung along. She knows she’s never going to escape, now.

Action must be taken. And believe me, it is.

That said, the picture is not all brutal pyrotechnics. Lerner allows numerous scenes of contemplation, builds complex characters and delivers a movie that’s one part Jean-Pierre Melville, one part Walter Hill, one part Scorsese and some deliciously delectable dashes of Michael Winner’s “Death Wish”. The action scenes, especially during the picture’s final third are brilliantly, heart-poundingly suspenseful and the violence is directed with the skill and precision of a true master (though this is only Lerner’s second feature). These sequences of relentless bloodshed are offset by gentle, evocative dream sequences involving Galia and her daughter and the true bond of friendship that develops between Galia and Elinor. In one of a few profoundly moving scenes, Elinor takes Galia to a Mikveh where she can purify herself and become immersed in the Holy glow of Judaism in the Eyes of God. This is exactly what the Doctor ordered. Cleansed and rejuvenated, our heathen Cossack warrior princess is now able to shed all her guilt and filth and proceed with her redemption by extracting revenge on her slavers and also save the life of a Jewish mother and her child.

This is the stuff great movies are made of – journeys where the stakes are high and the results of extreme actions in extraordinary situations are rewarded with the holiest ascensions into purity.

“Kirot” kicks ass!

Major ass!

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