Ženy pro měny

Erika Hníková's documentary on the Czech beauty industry is entertaining but disturbing

Director: Erika Hníková

Website: http://www.zenypromeny.cz/

Plot Summary: Documentary. Ženy pro měny is a tragicomic tale of ordinary women who are influenced by and try to reach Czech society's ideals of beauty. It's also a film about the people who create this ideal and about the money that the "beauty cult" generates.

Review: An entertaining but disturbing snapshot of Czech womanhood at the turn of the 21st century, Ženy pro měny is an impressive piece of work.

As an attack on the beauty industry - cosmetics, dieting, plastic surgery, modelling and women's magazines are all in the firing line - the film never quite lands a knockout blow, but it certainly leaves its target a little battered and bruised. (If nothing else, Ženy pro měny's gruesome cosmetic surgery footage will put most people who see the film off ever getting a boob job.)

What impresses most about the movie, though, is its broad scope - the time and effort that Hníková has put into assembling a range of subjects with interesting tales to tell or strong views to advance.

An accountant, a pop star (Dara Rolins), a Škoda assembly line worker, a group of schoolgirls, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, a group of young anarcho-feminists and a future contestant on US reality TV show The Next Joe Millionaire (Karolína Chudá) all share screen time in Hníková's film, creating a fascinatingly bizarre and often very funny cross-section of Czech womanhood.

Like the creators of notorious hypermarket hoax Český sen, Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák, Hníková is a product of Prague's FAMU film academy, and there are obvious similarities between the two films.

Like Remunda & Klusák - and unlike, say, Michael Moore - Hníková doesn't beat her audience into submission with her "message." Instead, Ženy pro měny prefers to ask awkward questions and, for the most part, leave the audience to figure out the answers for themselves.

Hníková also deserves credit for her subtlety. While she clearly has strong opinions of her own, she refuses either to totally condemn or totally condone any of her subjects' views.

Her interview with Cosmo editor Sabrina Karasová, for instance, is necessarily awkward but not entirely unsympathetic. At the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, Hníková draws one of the anarcho-feminists into a surprising revelation.

What Ženy pro měny lacks, though, is a historical perspective. The film implies, unintentionally perhaps, that the pressure to conform to feminine norms is a product of capitalism, and the money being made selling beauty products

Those pressures obviously existed before 1989 too, but Ženy pro měny doesn't acknowlege that.

That complaint aside, Ženy pro měny is a film worth seeing, even if it isn't always comfortable viewing.

PTV Rating: 4 out of 5

English Title: The Beauty Exchange
Runtime: 1 hour, 17 minutes


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