Irina Palm: Garbarski’s Movie, Starring Marianne Faithful

In Irina Palm, by the German-born Belgian director Sam Garbarski, Marianne Faithfull stars as Maggie, a middle-aged widow. Desperate to raise money to pay for her grandsons medical bills, she takes a hostess job in a sex club, where she transforms herself into the popular and highly-paid Irina Palm.

Along with her new persona, Maggie gains self-confidence, realizing she is not as old and unattractive as she had thought. But her two worlds collide as her clandestine existence provokes the suspicions of her family and inquisitive neighbors.

The movie received its international premiere at this years Berlin Film Festival, where it screened in competition. Irina Palm is a rather small, contrived film that’s worth seeing solely for Faithfull’s charismatic performance.

We have seen movies about women of a certain age who are liberated (losing their moral and sexual guards) through circumstances, usually by meeting a younger man, but here it happens through an unexpected journey into the seedier side of life, London’s sex clubs, which are not as “glamorous” as those you read about in the press.

Remarkably, the movie steers clear of sensationalism, as could be expected, instead adopting a more joyous approach, largely due to Faithful’s work but also Blasband and Martin Herron’s sharp writing.

Rising above the connotations of her name, Faithfull gives a full-bodied performance as a bourgeois suburban widow, who lives a quiet life with few friends around. Her main joy comes from interacting with her grandson Olly, whose sickness can be cured by expensive experimental treatment that’s only available in Australia.

To help matters, Maggie goes to London. The simple act of answering an ad throws her into the world of prostitution. The yarn loses credibility in suggesting Maggie’s all too quick rise to popularity, due to her talents and skills, which mysteriously don’t require intercourse or physical contact, mostly involving intimate chats with clients across a hole in the wall (recalling Kinski’s bordello scenes in Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas”).

Her natural warmth, proficiency, and good humor endear Maggie to her boss and co-workers, and (too) soon she’s blessedly equipped with renewed confidence and self-esteem. However, as noted, the main (perhaps only) reason to see the film is Marianne Faithfull, who has not had in years such a strong role, which allows her to express a whole gamut of feelings and moods, from grief, loss and loneliness all the way to tough humor and new resilience.

Cast

Marianne Faithfull (Maggie)
Miki Manojlovic (Miki)
Kevin Bishop (Tom)
Siobhan Hewlett (Sarah)
Dorka Gryllus (Luisa)
Jenny Agutter (Jane)

Credits

Strand Releasing.
Produced by Entre Chien et Loup, Pallas Film, Samsa Film, Ipso Facto Films, Liaison Cinmatographique, Ateliers de Baere and RTBF Television.
Directed by Sam Garbarski.
Screenplay: Martin Herron and Philippe Blasband, based on a story by Blasband.
Camera: Christophe Beaucarne.
Editing: Ludo Troch.
Music: Ghinzu.

Running time: 103 Minutes.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated.