"Batka's Fortune" depicts the sexual adventures of a collective farm boss who bears more than a passing resemblance to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
By Kevin O'Flynn
MOSCOW -- A tall mustachioed man called Luka strolls onto the fields of a collective farm and approaches a woman harvesting vegetables. The man, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, discusses the quality of tomatoes with the woman and then proceeds to have sex with her.
The scene is from the forthcoming adult film "Batka's Fortune," which depicts the randy adventures of a collective farm boss who is clearly modeled on the Belarusian president. The film is expected to be available on the Internet later this year.
Russian-Belarusian relations have reached a post-Soviet low in recent months, with disputes between Minsk and Moscow over gas prices, and Russian boycotts of Belarusian products like milk marring what had previously been close ties. Russian television has also aired a series of highly unflattering documentaries about the Kremlin's erstwhile ally, portraying Lukashenka as a corrupt and brutal dictator.
"Batka's Fortune" appears to be the latest salvo in the anti-Lukashenka propaganda war.
The film's director and producer, Aleksandr Valov, has already made a soft-core porn film titled "Yulia," featuring characters resembling Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, both Kremlin opponents.
Valov denies, however, that he is carrying out the Kremlin's orders by parodying the regime's opponents, insisting that he is just out to make money. The director spoke in his soon-to-be-opened Moscow nightclub, the Pick Up Club, which features its own erotic cinema, showers near the dance floor, and a bedroom that can be rented by the hour.
Valov allowed, however, that politics does figure into his choice of film subjects.
"I am also not an idiot and to some extent I am a patriot of my country. If I was not patriotic, then my first film would have been about Putin or Medvedev," Valov says. "I don't see anything in them to make a film about our leaders. I see things differently as a director. I don't see Putin in bed. There are no big romances."
Valov didn't invent using sex as a weapon against Kremlin foes. In the past, politicians who crossed the authorities would sometimes appear in grainy, compromising videos shot in brothels and saunas.
In 1999, a man resembling Yury Skuratov, then the prosecutor-general, appeared with two prostitutes in a video that was widely shown on Russian television. Skuratov had launched a criminal probe into Kremlin corruption. Earlier this year, several opposition figures were captured on film in the company of prostitutes.
Valov, however, says he is proud to have pioneered what he calls "erotic kitsch" in Russia. "If we were first in space, then in this cinematic wave we are also first," he says. "We first created erotic cinematic kitsch and then other directors started to do it."
Valov started to make his film about Lukashenka in 2006, shortly after he completed "Yulia." But with relations between Minsk and Moscow much warmer at that time, the project ran into political problems.
He released a small portion of the film on the Internet and, in the process, infuriated the Belarusian government, which threatened a libel suit.
"Of course, Belarus Embassy workers downloaded the clip on their laptops and giggled to each other demonstratively. And, of course, it reached their boss," Valov says. "And I don't know if it was rumors or not, but I know that the workers where the clip was found on their laptops were fired the next day."
The actor who plays Lukashenka, a driver at a nightclub who Valov found by accident, was fired from his job in the uproar. He initially quit the film but ultimately returned.
Valov says finding someone to play the nondescript Lukashenka was not a problem. "Finding somebody resembling Lukashenka -- like [finding someone to play] Saakashvili -- is not that difficult. They have typical faces that you can find in the Moscow markets," he says. "It was more difficult to find someone resembling Tymoshenko. She's a lady, and she's very beautiful -- very sexual.
"The faces of these leaders, they are quite proletarianlike. There is no intellect on the faces of Lukashenka and Saakashvili. I think it's not a problem. All you need to do is go down in the Moscow metro in the morning when they go to work and you can see a lot of faces like that."
A Sign From Above
The film's fortunes changed dramatically in the last several months as Russian-Belarusian relations deteriorated.
Valov says he took the airing of anti-Lukashenka documentaries on Russian television as a "signal" that he could finish "Batka's Fortune" at last. He says he expects it to turn a profit, just as "Yulia" did.
In addition to his "erotic kitsch" filmmaking, Valov also runs an agency that promises to find men a wife for the price of 4,000 euros. He also manages a girls pop group called Min Net and the reality TV personality Elena Berkova, a former erotic film star who played the role of Tymoshenko in "Yulia."
He says he is not worried about problems with the Belarusian government, which has been known to lock away opposition leaders, let alone smutty filmmakers poking fun at the country's leader.
"I am not in Belarus. Do you think that Lukashenka will come to Moscow just for me?" Valov asks. "I hear they have a 10-year sentence ready for me if I am ever in Belarus. The last time I was in Belarus was in the 1970s when I was involved in trading [between Poland and Russia]."
If the Belarussian authorities are interested, he says the last scene will be filmed close by, at a village in Poland, not far from the border.
His next project after the Lukashenka film will be set in France. Valov, who is diminutive in height, says he will play French President Nicolas Sarkozy.