Mug: Ingenious tragicomedy flirts with real-life events

Review: Malgorzata Szumowska's clever, affecting film touches on many topical themes

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Director: Małgorzata Szumowska
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Robert Talarczyk, Małgorzata Gorol, Agniezska Podsiadlik, Roman Gancarczyk
Running Time: 1 hr 31 mins

Małgorzata Szumowska’s ingenious tragicomedy flirts with real world developments, in particular the erection of the ludicrously large Monument of Christ the King, a 33m high statue of Jesus – that’s 3m higher than Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer – in Swiebodzin in western Poland in 2010. A conversation in which the film’s likeable if aimless young hero Jacek (the brilliant Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) speaks dreamily and vaguely of plans to go to London, is shut down with remarks that hint at post-Brexit isolation. The British have “wised up” to Polish immigrants and won’t let him in, explains his boorish brother-in-law (Robert Talarczyk) and equally obnoxious chums. “Get that in your head; Poles belong in Poland.”

The same relative makes jokes about Jews, black people and Muslims and goes to confession to argue that he needs pornography as his wife isn’t putting out. Jacek is a heavy-metaller which is transgressive enough to earn him contempt from all quarters of the small town where he lives and works as a labourer working on the giant Jesus. Christmas at his crowded extended family home sees relations wishing him well to comically uncharitable effect: “I wish you’d get a haircut and stop looking like a cunt.” The good-natured Jacek takes it in his stride until a horrible accident sees him fall into the hollow of the statue’s body, requiring Poland’s first face transplant.

He returns with a new face as a kind of celebrity. His friends and family, however, are not so welcoming. His girlfriend (Malgorzata Gorol) dumps him and his mother can’t stand to look at him. Only his stern, loyal sister (Agniezska Podsiadlik) continues to love him unconditionally.

The unholy relations between Catholicism, ethno-nationalism, and rightist sentiment hang around the margins of Szumowska’s clever, affecting film. Michal Englert’s cinematography is handsome, whether trained on the rolling hills or at a bizarre late-night underwear sale. Don’t ask; just go see for yourself.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic