Debutante Aussie helmer (i.e. a film director) Kitty Green strips away spin and half-truths to reveal the complex story of FEMEN, the Ukrainian feminist group famous for its topless protests, in Ukraine Is Not a Brothel. The big reveal in this fascinating documentary, that Femen was effectively run for years by a sinister if charismatic man — Victor Svyatski, interviewed here — has already made headlines around the world, which surely won’t hurt the pic’s commercial prospects. But that shouldn’t distract from the fact that Green also offers a nuanced, thoughtful portrait of courageous if sometimes muddle-headed women fighting on the side of the angels. Structuring the story around face-to-face interviews with a number of the Femen collective’s key players, particularly longstanding members Inna Shevchenko and Alexandra “Sasha” Shevchenko, Green doesn’t try to disguise how embedded she was among the women while shooting the film. Her voice, speaking fluent Ukrainian, is often heard off camera asking questions, and clearly the Femen-ists grew to trust her deeply over the 14 months she spent living among them.
This film dealt with a real and urgent issue, but the film itself left us disappointed. The "expose" that Femen was being led and manipulated behind the scenes by a domineering man, Victor, distracted from the main point of the film. Victor, in an on-screen interview, proves himself to be a creep. The protesting, topless, women are outrageous. Part of the time you are wondering if they have chosen the best way to make their point; other times you have to concede that they are certainly getting the attention of the media and the population through their methods. One of the leaders of Femen appeared with director Green after the showing, and revealed that the group had dumped Victor and was now based in France. The current revolution in Ukraine, they feel, owes something to their pioneering efforts.