Elena Beloff is a Russian woman who loves living in New York. She came to the city ten years ago as a student and has since found parallel fields as a healer (she is a certified and practicing hypnotist) and filmmaker. In 2010, she debuted a film about Russian women in New York, one which took her years to conceive. Zaritsas* was born from American stereotypes of women from Russia and goes to show that both the “good” and the “bad” are ultimately misrepresentations of real people. The things Elena learned about these generalizations did not resonate with her own experience of being a Russian woman in New York. With this film, she sets the record straight.
Beloff follows five Russian women – her Zaritsas – over the period of one summer in New York: Sasha, Irina, Tatiana, Elena, and Katya. Beloff and her crew capture the dignity and vulnerability of each woman’s circumstances, demonstrating the depth of character that is to be found in each individual with dreams of a better future.
A prime example is Irina I. When we first see her, she is working as an exotic dancer. Her personal strength develops steadily throughout the hour-long film as she makes it out of the underworld of the strip club, into a brighter existence through meditation, self-reflection, and dance. She clearly develops trust in her intuition, and reminds the audience in one beautiful moment that “all girls…have a beautiful soul. They’re just a little bit lost…you need to help them.” She then poses a striking question: “If you don’t show them the light, who’s going to show them the light?” In other words: stop degrading women, then saying they want to be exploited. Everyone has a higher purpose to be unveiled, wrenched from the shadows of fear and helplessness and we all need a hand now and then. This is a film for women of the world, from their NYC-dwelling Russian sisters.
Zaritsas is a film with a fully developed form: rare intellect, a heart, guts, and amazingly steady feet. With her directorial debut, Elena Beloff succeeds in capturing and reworking the stereotypes that are so often used against women, exposing the dark side of characters who are collectively devoted to finding their own inner light.
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The film can be purchased here.
* Pronounced tzah-reet-sahs, meaning female tzar