Metro Weekly

East/West: Sex and Politics

Reel Affirmations 2009

Review by Will O’Bryan

Rating: starstarstar (3 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/17/2009, 1:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes
German, Russian with English subtitles

IN ORDER TO enjoy East/West-Sex & Politics, one had better be interested in the situation for gays in Russia. Very interested. Very, very interested.

East/West is not just about the fight to stage a gay pride event in Moscow, although that fight is a big part of this movie. It’s also about activists living communally. It’s about gay clubbing. It’s about gay migrants from the Caucasus. It’s about Russian xenophobia and thugs. And you’re going to need to have at least a fleeting interest on all Eastern fronts.

Moving along its 97 minutes, we start with Nikolei the arch activist; Arman the muscled Armenian; Sergei, the straight photographer who shoots lots of male models; Evgenia, the lesbian club owner whose enthusiasm for the fight is waning. Those are just a few of the Muscovites whose worlds we enter. Following this crew, we see just about every possible layer of being gay in Moscow today. It’s a setting that conjures notions of a mid-1960s New York — freer than most of the country, yet still painfully repressive.

If you do have the interest and the patience, filmmaker Jochen Hick will reward you with some lovely cinematography, terrifying footage of neo-Nazis being let loose on activists, and an intimate look into the lives of the GLBT community’s Moscow contingent. Just don’t go in thinking it’s about any one of these things alone. Hick cast a very wide net. If you’re not willing to give at least a few minutes to, say, gay Russians attending religious services in the home of a sympathetic Russian Orthodox pastor, as well as to checking out a Moscow rave or the 2007 meeting of European mayors in London, you may find yourself getting a bit antsy by the one-hour mark.

But for those rare Russophiles or cultural anthropologists among us, East/West offers an unparalleled look at a culture that is simultaneously familiar and alien. Russian Orthodox homophobes may look uniquely Russian, but gays the world over are all too familiar with their brand of hate. And Arman’s lament that on the same day that a small band of gay activists is attacked downtown, his gay friends are more interested in going out dancing that night, is as familiar a scenario in the Homeland as the Motherland.

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East/West: Sex and Politics
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Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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