Issue 62 (2018)

Vadim Perel’man: Buy Me (Kupi menia, 2017)

reviewed by Anthony Anemone© 2018

kupi menyaLike Victor Ginzburg, the director of Generation P (2012), Vadim Perel’man was born in the Soviet Union, educated and trained in the West, and has directed films in Hollywood and Russia. Originally from Kiev, Perel’man emigrated as a teenager with his family to Canada where he studied filmmaking, founded his own film production company in Toronto, and, after a successful career directing commercials and music videos, moved to Los Angeles. In Hollywood he directed two movies with A-list actors, the critically acclaimed The House of Sand and Fog (2003) and the box-office bomb The Life Before her Eyes (2007), after which he relocated to Russia. In Moscow, Perel’man has worked steadily, directing the TV Mini Series Ashes (Pepel, 2013), a period thriller set in the Soviet Union of the 1940s, a well-received television series Betrayals (Izmeny, 2015), and the fifth installment in the popular comic series Yolki (2016), before his latest film. Buy Me, which premiered at the 2017 Moscow International Film Festival, is the work of a versatile, talented, and technically accomplished filmmaker capable of working in very different genres and styles.

Written by Dar’ia Gratsevich, Perel’man’s new film follows the lives of three beautiful young women searching for happiness in contemporary Moscow where happiness means acquiring a “sugar daddy,” an oligarch or—is there really any difference?—a mobster. The heroines of Buy Me relentlessly stalk their prey in the city’s coolest, flashiest, most expensive restaurants and night clubs, all photographed with verve by cinematographer Iurii Nikogosov. Galia is an anorexic blonde who dreams of a new German car, which she sees as a “sign that everything will be ok.” Although Liza is more cynical about men and sex—sexual coercion by her boss is simply part of her job—she believes that once she arranges a meeting with the dreamy oligarch Kostia, her life will be magically transformed into a fairy tale. Katia, a newcomer to this life and the film’s central character, has fled her safe middle-class life to follow the “glamorous” life of a single woman in the big city. Not entirely surprisingly, the quest ends badly for all three. 

kupi menyaThe movie begins with a striking scene that sets the plot in motion, while also introducing the film’s central thematic oppositions and its dominant visual style. Katia confesses her wish to abandon a conventional life studying Russian literature in order to experience what is normally forbidden to well brought-up and dutiful children of the bourgeoisie: a life of pleasure and desire, unrestrained by any conventional notions of duty, honor, or morality, and, as she puts it, “orgies, orgies, orgies, the wildest, most shameless, and foulest kind.”  Although she is actually quoting from a letter written by Vissarion Belinsky to a friend almost 180 years ago, the sentiments are indeed her own. As she strolls out of the lecture hall and into her new life, we hear on the soundtrack Lana McDonagh singing “Broken Beauty,” a sultry anthem of a woman’s obsessive and self-destructive search for fame, money, and love: a perfect music video!

Having convinced her overprotective and demanding mother that she is going to Paris on a scholarship to study the émigré poet Vladislav Khodasevich, Katia actually flies to an unnamed city in the Middle East (Dubai?) with a group of beautiful young girls for what she thinks is a modeling job. On the way, her eyes are gradually opened to the reality of the “fashion show” by Liza, who has been here before: they have actually come to “entertain” rich “Sheiks.” While the details of the “fashion show” are never fully spelled out and no one seems to be compelling the women to participate—the “madame” tells Katia that she can return home whenever she wants—the situation certainly looks like international sex trafficking. Although she has no desire to prostitute herself to rich Arabs, Katia finds the situation too “interesting” to simply leave, and while the others are waiting for the men to make their choices, she breaks into a sexy, provocative, and perfectly choreographed dance, which ends with her telling the young and handsome Sheik in English that, unfortunately, she has her period. Despite the scandal, Katia escapes without a scratch, returns to Moscow and, without any hesitation or second thoughts, moves in with her new girlfriends and plunges into a new life from which neither she nor they will escape so easily.

kupi menyaWhile Buy Me can be seen as a post-Soviet remake of Sex and the City, the cynicism, cruelty, and violence of Perel’man’s movie are absolutely foreign to the cheerful and self-confident world in which Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda started looking for “the perfect man” in New York city 20 years ago. Perhaps a more relevant comparison is to Vladimir Men’shov’s Moscow Doesn’t Believe Tears (Moskva slezam ne verit, 1980), the last great Soviet melodrama and winner of the Oscar for best foreign film. In both films three young girls seeking love and happiness in Moscow find, instead, disillusionment, disappointment, and unhappiness. If the central tension in both films is between dream (or fairy tale, skazka) and reality, both end by providing viewers with an emotional release from the accumulated disappointments: Katia in Moscow Doesn’t Believe Tears is reunited with her Prince Charming, while Katia in Buy Me escapes her squalid life to start a(nother) new life in Paris. The problem is that, in both cases, the resolution is unearned and unconvincing. Indeed, one could argue that Perel’man’s ending is even more false than Men’shov’s: if “serious” literature is as dead as the film portrays it,[1] what does it mean when at the film’s end Katia returns to studying Russian émigré poetry?  While real life has destroyed her friends, Katia is allowed to learn from the experience and, at the movie’s end, is poised to return to her old life, sadder, certainly, but wiser: up to this point, she has been slumming. With the final shot of Katia looking out the window of her Paris apartment at the Eiffel tower[2] and dissolving into tears, Buy me settles for the comfort of a fake catharsis.  

While some viewers will find the film entertaining, its portrayal of the decadent and hedonistic Moscow lives of sexually liberated young women, mysterious oligarchs, brutal mobsters, businessmen and criminals without conscience is entirely familiar from recent movies like Roman Prygunov’s Soulless (Dukhless, 2012) and Nikolai Khomeriki’s Selfie (2017). Perel’man’s main innovation is adopting the viewpoint of the women, although his camera seems more interested in exploring their beautiful faces and shapely bodies than their minds. And despite the numerous references to Belinsky, Khodasevich, and Dostoevsky, the film is unable to say anything new or interesting about the clash of “high” and “low” culture in contemporary Russian life: is literature dead? Or the key to the anomie of contemporary Moscow life?  Is the heroines’ unabashed sexuality a sign of their liberation and agency? Or, does their lack of kompleksy[3] allow them to be exploited more easily by the men in their lives? And, finally, how is it possible , 15 years after Lukas Moodysson’s brilliant and unbearable Lilya 4ever, for a Russian filmmaker to present sex trafficking as titillating fodder for male movie goers? Even if the director is on the side of his heroines, the film relentlessly exploits them as sex objects for the sake of its (male) audience. Despite excellent work by an ensemble of talented young actors and filmmakers, Buy Me is a disappointing and depressing film.


1] In addition to the running joke that no one recognizes the name Khodasevich, the degradation of “high” literature becomes crystal clear when Katiya recites his poem “Aviatoru/To the Aviator” as she is raped. When her rapist realizes that she is reciting a poem, he collapses in laughter.

2] A reference to Iurii Mamin’s comedy Window to Paris (Okno v Parizh, 1993)?

3] In the post-Soviet 1990s, job advertisements started listing “bez kompleksov/no sexual hangups” as one of the requirements for women applicants.  

Anthony Anemone
The New School

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Buy Me, Russia 2017
Color, 107 minutes
Director: Vadim Perel’man
Script: Dar’ia Gratsevich
Cinematography: Iurii Nikogosov
Editing: Aleksei Bobrov
Score: Il’ia Truskovskii
Producers: Aleksei Ageev, Semen Slepakov, Taimuraz Badziev, et al.
Cast: Iuliia Khlynina, Anna Adamovich, Svetlana Ustinova, Mikael’ Dzhanibekan, Ivan Dobronravov, Vladimir Koshevoi, Anatolii Kot, Aleksandr Oblasov

Vadim Perel’man: Buy Me (Kupi menia, 2017)

reviewed by Anthony Anemone© 2018

Updated: 2018