One of the most notable documentaries at the Dublins film festival is about a school in Russia that teaches women to be more attractive, writes Richard Fitzpatrick
It is a male world in Russia. Men outnumber women more than women and they hold all the cards in a patriarchal dating game, which is explored in the documentary School of Seduction. The film, which has been going on for a decade, follows the contrasting fate of three Russian women as they take classes, with twenty other women, in a sweaty classroom to improve their skills for attract men.
Women take the leadership of a middle-aged man. Use bait! he exhorts them, teaching them to dance (in their lingerie) and to undress in a sensual way. The advice he gives them goes from bizarre to sexist. He encourages them to be like a little girl. Cry in front of him, he said. Be fun, but don't try to be too smart, he warns them, because no man wants a woman with problems.
Ten years ago in Russia, we had a lot of courses like this, says Alina Rudnitskaya, director of the school of seduction. Times were changing in Russia. Communism was over. Capitalism had taken over. Women wanted to change, but they didn't know how to change. This is why these types of courses were popular.
What interested me in these courses was that he was a man who taught women to change. Most of the women who came to these courses were a little desperate. They were divorced, for example, or they couldn't find a man.
The director says that the participants really trusted the teacher because he was a man. They thought he would understand what a man wanted and what was best for a woman. What should I do for a man to love me? They thought it could give them knowledge that could change their lives.
Although the presence of President Vladimir Putin is fleeting in the documentary, his voice, which is surprisingly soft, looms. It is clear the influence it has on Russian society. In a public speech, broadcast on television on International Women's Day, he noted that women have other competitive advantages like their beauty, charm, warmth, as if it were describing a branch of the country's industrial sector.
What Putin says is our mentality, says Rudnitskaya. This is what our mothers and grandmothers told us that a woman should be female and a man should earn money. I tried to show in my documentary what happens when a woman lives in a patriarchal world. Women in Russia really depend on men. We still don't have equal pay. Women earn 30% less than men.
We were born in a society where men must be strong, brutal and have a good income. Women should be pretty and try to take care of their man, cook for them, stay at home with children, etc. What is really important in our society is not who you are but who your husband is. How many children do you have? If you have a child, why don't you have another? If you are not married, it means that you are ugly and that no one wants you. If a woman has a good income or is a single mother, she may be a lesbian. Feminism in Russia is still a bad word.
Rudnitskaya says that nowadays in Russia compared to 2008, when she started making her documentary, the focus for women taking seduction classes went beyond teaching women how be sexy to learn how to become more elegant, which is explored in the journey of the third and last character in his documentary, a lady called Diana.
Life has not been easy for Diana. Her mother was an alcoholic, her father a tyrant so she moved in with her grandmother, who appears to be suffering from dementia. She brings her son with her, who is only four years old when we meet him for the first time. Diana fell in love with the boy's father because of her big nose, and nothing else, she said wistfully. When she got pregnant, he left her.
During the documentary, some of his suitors were presented, including drunk English-speaking tourists at pick-up bars and a local Russian guy who has no career prospects. Diana is quite firm with him: there can be no relationship without an apartment or money, she says.
Eventually, she marries an older Italian man who lectures at a Moscow university, but she keeps striving. She graduated from taking courses at the Austrian Higher School for Women where she taught social etiquette skills like table manners, horse riding and how to walk while holding a book on her head. Shes took a test on the screen where she quotes the character of Nicole Kidmans in the film Grace of Monaco.
Her Italian husband gives her imprimatur for her to take these refresher courses. He is liberal. He can't stop her from doing what she wants. He doesn't think about the consequences, says Rudnitskaya.
In the penultimate scene from the documentary, she travels to Monte Carlo with her son, who is now almost a teenager. Outside of a chic hotel, he throws himself into the camera that they take with them, happy to share his dreams: beautiful women can meet a millionaire here.
School of Seduction will be screened as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, Thursday
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