Mandragora

Cerisaye's Review:

This is a haunting and harrowing film about a young boy called Marek, aged 16, who leaves home to go to Prague, following an argument.† Marekís father isnít abusive or neglectful.† He simply doesnít understand his son, has no way to get through to him; sometimes love just isnít enough.†

Marek, the innocent lad suddenly pitched into the big city, arrives at the railway station.† Almost immediately heís spotted by a shady looking character, Sasha, who hangs around the arrival platform looking for likely prospects.† He takes Marek under his wing, much in the manner of Fagin to Oliver Twist, except with far darker motives.† This far from kindly man is a pimp, with a whole host of young boys working for him, serving the different demands of his clients.† Sasha says he takes care of his boys, but cruel and cynical exploitation of their youth and inexperience is the name of his game.†

Director, Wiktor Grodecki, made an earlier documentary film, also set in Prague, called Body Without Soul (review coming soon) that makes an excellent companion to Mandragora. Grodecki interviews boys aged from about 14-18 years old, who begin selling their bodies to survive, then get lured by the promise of greater rewards into the seedy world of gay porn.† One of the boys he talks to plays Marek, and others feature, in Mandragora.

A tender love story develops when Marek meets fellow hustler, David.† We follow them as they desperately try to keep going despite the odds stacked against them, trying various schemes, turning themselves into pimps, porn performers and criminals, adapting to an unjust world that treats them with contempt, when it acknowledges their existence at all.†

There appears to be no escape and no message of hope for Marek and his fellows.† We are forced to watch as Marekís condition deteriorates in a downward spiral of sex and drugs, as his lifestyle affects his health and state of mind.† The final scenes in the movie are heartbreaking, and almost unbearable to watch.† We come full circle back to the railway station, as we watch another young hopeful arrive in Prague, destined no doubt to be met just like Marek by those who prey on the innocent.

The film maybe piles on the agony, but I think the directorís excess comes from heartfelt anger. At the way boys like Marek are forced by circumstances to destroy everything good about themselves in a futile attempt to survive, in the hostile adult environment of a city that doesnít care about vulnerable young people.†

Itís a film about missed opportunity.† There are moments of light, but itís false hope and the misery intensifies.† Marek has been consumed body and soul† by the darkness he inhabits.† One very upsetting scene at the end thatíll break any parentís heart highlights the complete hopelessness of Marekís situation.† No mercy granted.† This is a tragic story that offers no redemption, no happy ever after for these unfortunate youths.

I donít know why this movie turns up in the Gay category.† Marek could easily be a girl.† His fate has nothing to do with his sexuality, although explicit m/m sex features heavily throughout the film.† Marekís is a human story, that should touch anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

Ladymol's Review:

Iím not sure whether this is more a morality tale about becoming a male prostitute or living in Eastern Europe: both are portrayed as being pretty ghastly.

Fifteen-year-old Mark leaves his home town in the Czech Republic for Prague and begins a descent into prostitution and drugs.† The film is about exploitation. Itís brilliantly acted by its young castóto the extent that you actually forget these are just actors and that you are just watching a movie. Itís almost more documentary in places: the boys being so realistically portrayed that you end up hoping they are only actors. (Interestingly enough, since I wrote that, Iíve discovered that one of the boys is a real hustler who features in the documentary this movie is based upon Body Without Soul. If itís possible, knowing that just makes this movie even more hideous.)

Somewhere in this movie is a touching story about the two boys, but itís so utterly bleak and depressing that itís like a tiny flicker of sunlight in an otherwise dark night.

One aspect of the sex industry thatís often ignored in films is the level of violence the boys and girls are subject too. This is graphically shown in this movie. Having no value in societyís eyes, no one cares when these boys are tortured, beaten or murdered. But whatís worse, living such a violent way of life, they perpetuate the violence on themselves. Thereís precious little esprit de corps amongst these boys; itís dog eat dog, and the relentless violence is as painful to watch as the sex.

Itís actually very hard to watch this movie and go back to enjoying any aspect of the sex industryówhether that be the seemingly harmless writing of slash fiction or reviewing of porn.†

If I had a restless teenage boy, thinking that life outside a provincial town or school was glamorous and interesting, I might show him this film.

Did I enjoy it? No. Did I watch it though, in disbelief for its stark courage? Yes.

Not an eveningís entertainment but if you want to be challenged then I do recommend you watch this movie.

Buy a region 0 (play anywhere) copy from Amazon UK here: Mandragora [1997]

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