“Irina Palm”, a tragicomedy directed by Sam Garbarski, tells a story of Maggie (amazing Marianne Faithful) – a 50-year-old woman, who used to call herself “a blowing widow” or “a middle-age slattern”. The protagonist – as it’s easy to guess – works in sex business, but the movie, contrary to the appearances, does not have much in common with a pornographic or erotic show. The director creates a bittersweet, unique and deeply moving tale about a woman that would do anything to help the ones that she loves – her dying grandson and his heartbroken parents than cannot afford an expensive therapy that can save their kid’s life.
Entering the world of erotic entertainment becomes for Maggie something more than embarrassing sacrifice. Leaving conservative suburbs of London and becoming a part of the world of forbidden – in normative, traditional social order – pleasures, leads the widow to both – emancipation and empowerment. A shy, introverted woman, who has dedicated her existence to her family and doesn’t know that she also still has a life to live, in the new reality of peeps show, erotic massage salons, and shady pubs, discovers a way of standing up for herself and – above all – realizes that she is neither that old nor so prudish as she used to think. Her delicate hands become famous around the club’ called Sex World customers and every evening she has queues of men in front of her door.
What’s important, the director doesn’t distract the audience with the images of naked bodies and porno performances; on the contrary – the power and subversiveness of “Irina Palm” lies in the power of the storytelling: of brilliant dialogues that sometimes are truly moving, and sometimes create the grotesque effect and of poetical, but also sultry climate of images. Maggie, whose underground pseudonym is Irina Palm, remains in the dramaturgical centre of the entire story and makes you alternately cry and laugh. She becomes an invisible object of desire (customers don’t see who is massaging them), which makes her happy. Her double life obviously quickly becomes the object of interest of her neighbours who simply love seeking for sensational and tasty gossip. What’s interesting, Maggie reaches so much power and self-confidence that the words and looks of strangers can’t hurt her – talking about her job becomes for a cathartic experience; a way of taking total control of her life that frees itself from oppressive conveyances and stereotypes of the widow. The protagonist will have to face the provincial hypocrisy that comes not only from the neighbours, but also from her own son that seems to care more about traditional morality than about anything else. All of those experiences, although sometimes heart-breaking, will give her courage to fight for her own happiness.
The idea of the movie was very risking on both levels – of the plot (showing a job in the sex industry as any other activity that can bring, not necessarily sexual, satisfaction) and of the protagonist (putting an aging and rather not attractive woman in the centre of the story about desire. Nevertheless, the director has managed to not turn this scheme into a ridiculous spectacle that would only objectify and humiliate the main character. “Irina Palm” is a movie that not only proves the subversive potential of sex underground that is usually and not without a reason associated with violence and practices of objectification human bodies that are being turned into spectacles, but also paints a sensitive, subtle picture of love that is being born in a space that seems to be a negation of romanticism and between people that seem to be too broken and too reconciled to loneliness to fall in love ever again.
“Irina Palm” is a beautiful and wonderfully made tale not only about enormous self-sacrifice, but –above all – finding ling in the darkest of tunnels. A moving story of emancipation is intertwined with black humour and subtle criticism of capitalism which makes this intimate movie really pleasant to watch.