Thursday, April 24, 2014

Love Me goes behind the scenes of international matchmaking services

Love Me opens by asking several men what love is, and it turns out that they think the way to find it is through the mail-order bride business.

This documentary, directed by American Jonathon Narducci, profiles five American men and one Australian from a variety of places and backgrounds who use the international online matchmaking services A Foreign Affair and Elena's Models to find wives from the Ukraine, where there are just 87 men for every 100 women. The major similarity among them is that they've become frustrated and claim they can't find compatible women in their countries. And most of them seem to prefer younger women.

A Foreign Affair has offices around the world and invites men to sign up on its website and then pay to send messages to women in other parts of the world. It also offers "romance tours" to male clients, where they're often outnumbered 10 to one by women at organized social events.

Love Me follows the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures, of these men and the women they fall in love with from a distance and then in person. These guys have spent thousands of dollars to find the woman of their dreams, and it sometimes seems like they're living more in a dream world than the real one.

There are two success stories, where Ukrainian women Vitalina and Inna form a bond with their American suitors and move to the United States and marry them -- hopefully to live happily ever after.

Another man finds the Ukrainians unfriendly and insincere and vows not to use these matchmaking services again. He later says that the experience helped give him a greater appreciation of local women and he ends up involved with one of them.

We're also introduced to A Foreign Affair founder John Adams and former mail-order bride and now Elena's Models owner Elena Petrova. They both seem like decent enough people who believe they're providing valuable and legitimate services that can bring happiness to men and women around the world. But I can't help but feeling that there's an underlying sleaziness to them and their business practices.

The most interesting stories, to me at least, are the relationships that don't go as planned. They show the desperation of the men and portray the women as either manipulative opportunists or confused damsels who maybe aren't sure what they want.

Michael travels from Australia to Kiev to meet Svitlana and her two daughters. He thinks he knows her well from their correspondence and, after seemingly enjoying their time together, he proposes and she accepts. A wedding in Bali is planned, but before that he receives an ominous email from the Ukraine that claims his bride to be is scamming him. The wedding goes ahead anyway, but the marriage isn't consummated and she cuts off communication with him after they return to their respective countries.

Svitlana admits to the camera that she has similar relationships with other men while she decides the best options for herself and her daughters. Michael doesn't give up, however, and returns to Ukraine to find out what's gone wrong. Svitlana says she doesn't love him and that the wedding was a mistake. He asks for his ring back and she walks out the door and out of his life.

Wisconsin farmer Travis falls for a woman just after meeting her in Ukraine, but he has to return to the U.S. and plans to keep the relationship going from a distance. He heads back to Ukraine three months later to ask her to marry him and, while something doesn't seem right, he thinks it will turn out okay. But when men show up to her apartment demanding $4,000 they claim she owes, he gives them the $200 he has with him and heads to the airport without proposing. The romance ends, but her online demands for money don't.

Bobby spent almost $10,000 on sending messages to a beautiful Ukrainian woman and flies there to see her. He's stood up at first and believes he may have been scammed, but meets her a day later. With a translator provided by A Foreign Affair, they talk, but he has doubts that it's the same person he's been communicating with online. But that doesn't stop him from asking her if she wants to move to the U.S. and marry him at that first meeting. Bobby believes that she's agreed and returns home thinking he's engaged.

But responses to the overweight and reclusive Bobby's messages are vague and he gives up hope. She's removed from the A Foreign Affair site because it's unclear if she was legitimate, but he was still out all of that money and went into state of depression and stopped his attempts at online dating before admitting to trying A Foreign Affair one more time. We're shown photos of a beautiful brunette and left with the feeling that he'll be heartbroken again.

Watch the trailer for Love Me

Love Me will make its international premiere and be screened in Toronto as part of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival at: 9:30 p.m. on April 25 at Scotiabank Theatre; 1 p.m. on April 26 at Scotiabank Theatre; and 7 p.m. on May 2 at Fox Theatre.


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The major similarity among them is that they've become frustrated and claim they can't find compatible women in their countries. And most of them seem to prefer younger women.
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