Breaking Soviet taboos: Merry Christmas in Paris! or The Gang of Lesbians (1991)
This film deserves our attention solely because of its conspicuous title: Merry Christmas in Paris! or The Gang of Lesbians (Счастливого Рождества в Париже! Или Банда лесбиянок, 1991). Was this the influence of the third wave feminism on women’s cinema of post-Soviet Russia? Let’ see.
Olga Zhukova, the woman director of Merry Christmas in Paris, produced 5 films in 1990-1993, the years that can be called the period of cinematic diarrhea of the new Russia.
After years of total control, suddenly everything was allowed. With the exception of one or two true masterpieces, the infinitude of film trash saw the light these years. Catering to the information-hungry spectator, these films were exploiting taboos of the Soviet era, and without much sophistication mainly indulged in the portrayal of sex and violence. With their amateurish look and technical rawness, the films of the early 1990s constituted a very distinct cinematic phenomenon of the new Russia.
Merry Christmas in Paris obviously capitalises on the permissive environment of the decade. Four young ladies – Redhead, Blackie, May Lily and Irina, – earn a living very much in the style of 1990s Russia. The girls pick up horny rich men on the streets and lure poor fellas into their lair. Offering them alcohol and promising sex, they are just choosing the right moment to stifle and rob them.
The girls have a faithful bodyguard Baban, who helps to keep their dirty deeds under cover. In turn the girls sometimes let Baban watch their lesbian orgies. Blackie’s little daughter is another full-fledged member of this “family” – the bodyguard Baban is her best friend, and sometimes she likes to peek at her mommy and friends having sex through a tiny hole in the wall. They all share one dream – to save up money, break away from the post-Soviet misery and spend next Christmas in Paris.
Zhukova in Merry Christmas in Paris aims high, trying to raise the questions of female empowerment in the post-Soviet Russia, however, achieves the opposite – what we would label as the “Russ Meyer effect”. The notorious breast men Russ may have vindicated powerful female characters in his films, but this female empowerment most of the times overlapped with female exploitation: heroines had to show boobs to assert the girl power. Japanese pinky violence would be another good example – in these films the woman is usually empowered only to emphasise her capacities as a sexual object.
Merry Christmas in Paris lacks both the style of pinky violence and the camp element and irony of Meyer’s films. What is left is pretentiousness, speculation on all-permissiveness, pseudo-profound meaning and very poor cinematography.
Why watching it then? To see the first lesbian sex scene from behind the Iron Curtain: