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Belgium/Germany/Luxembourg/United Kingdom 2007
Directed by
Sam Gabarski
103 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Irina Palm

Synopsis: Maggie (Marianne Faithfull) is a English middle-aged grandmother who has been widowed for some years. When her grandson Ollie is dying and needs a special operation that can only be done in Australia, she is desperate to get money to help her son Tom (Kevin Bishop) and daughter-in-law out. She has already sold up her house to help pay for the hospital bills. When she sees a job advertising “Hostesses Wanted”, she heads into a line of work she would never have imagined, and finds a self-esteem she would never have dreamed of.

As a co-production from Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, United Kingdom and France, it would seem this film took some time in getting funded, perhaps because of its unusual subject matter. As audiences, we are just not used to seeing women like Maggie working in the sex industry. In many ways Irina Palm is a brave film, dealing with the whole issue of hypocrisy about sex and women’s role in pleasuring men. It certainly doesn’t show men up in a very good light especially in some scenes that show what’s going on from the man’s point of view! What is interesting is how the film walks a fine line between drama and comedy. Many of the women at the women’s only preview I attended laughed loudly however I perceived it as more poignant than funny despite there being several very amusing scenes.

In many ways this is an unusual and delicate film, particularly because of the way the lead character is handled. We meet Maggie playing bridge with her girlfriends and being generally perceived as a retiring, frumpy woman. Her lowly standing is reinforced by the way her daughter-in-law Sarah (Siobhan Hewlett) treats her in an offhand fashion and even more when she goes to the bank and the employment agency only to be told bluntly that with no skills and no employment history she’ll never get work. But when she does get work at Sexy World and proves to be very good at that work she sees herself in a different light. Despite her own enhanced self-image she must deal with the hypocrisy and condemnation of many around her including her friends and her son.

There’s a nice little sub-plot of her friendship with a co-worker Luisa (Dorka Gryllus) who is highly put out by Maggie’s success in her new role. But the more interesting (and not entirely believable) sub-plot is of Maggie’s growing attraction to Miki (Miki Manojlovic), the man who runs the sleazy joint. Miki is an extremely complex character in that he starts off only interested in how much money Maggie can make for him. But especially once she has her persona, Irina Palm, he undergoes a lovely transformation as Maggie’s honesty and true-to-herself nature get through to him.

Much of the film is carried by the lovely performance from former wild child, Marianne Faithfull. Since the director chose not to show explicit body bits and relies rather upon noises with full camera focus on Maggie’s face it’s really critical that we as an audience can empathise with the initially repulsive work the woman is doing. Her facial expressions are telling and silence is used to good effec. The deliberate slow pace and oft-repeated sexy thumping music in the club may annoy some viewers as may the rather monochromatically dark look of parts of the film, along with the repetitive walking to and from work done by Maggie. I however found that all highly apt in conveying the paradoxical threads of the story.




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