Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Irina Palm, Sam Grabarski, Belgium/ Luxemburg/ UK/ Germany/ France 2007

Irina Palm tells the story of a grandmother, Maggie, played by Marianne Faithful, whose grandson, Ollie, is terminally ill. Determined to scrape the money together that could safe Ollie's life, Maggie finds work as a sex-worker in SoHo under the alias Irina Palm, a name given to her by her boss as Maggie/ Irina turns out to have a particular good hand for ... errrrrr, well - hand-jobs.

So far, so good. Grabarski's film sure has a promising premise, to say the least, especially given the current economic climate which makes topics like these all the more relevant. What a pity then, that Grabarski has wasted most of the potential his film's central theme offered by turning Irina Palm into an exercise in conventional film-making that puts even the most predictable of mainstream Hollywood fare to shame. If it weren't for Maggie's unusual job, we might as well be seeing a classic Hollywood melodrama as Irina Palm comes with all the trappings of films like Stella Dallas or Terms of Endearment and so on. First of all, the fact that Maggie lives in suburbia, where she is friends with a particular square and narrow-minded set of housewives from whom she keeps her work a secret, makes her job even more scandalous. Yet, it is clear from the first that eventually, her friends will get wise. However, true to form, their comeuppance is as predictable as Maggie's revenge on them when Maggie reveals - in front of all customers in her local shop - that she knew that one of them used to have an affair with Maggie's dead husband who told her - on his deathbed, no less - that she liked to get spanked. On the same token, the first time Maggie lied eyes on her new boss, we know that the two will eventually end up being lovers. Next to no twists or turns in the film's narrative come as any surprise as they're all, say, vintage MGM at its most predictable.

If it weren't for the fact that Maggie works as a hand-job-giver.

However, instead of using that to make a statement about the situation, the problems, of the disenfranchised and disadvantaged, Grabarski and his fellow-screenwriters merely use it to shock effect, to provoke, to grab attention, thus wasting a topic with enormous potential. What's shocking is not what Maggie does for a living - what's shocking is that she has to do it to save her grandson's life.

Irina Palm is out on DVD.