Palm played at the
2007 Montreal World Film Festival. Philippa
Hawker, who writes for The
Age, gave the film 3 out of 5 stars.
the past couple of weekends, the Australian Centre for the
Moving Image screened a retrospective of works by filmmaker
Peter Whitehead, whose camera captured and created some intriguing
aspects of 1960s counter-culture. Among them was a film clip
he shot for a Rolling Stones song called “We Love You,”
released in 1967 just after Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
had been arrested and sentenced on drug charges, then had
their jail terms quashed on appeal.
Stones were depicted re-enacting the trial of Oscar Wilde.
Among the figures in the clip is an elegant, androgynous Marianne
Faithfull, in a black men's suit and white ruffled shirt,
a carnation in her buttonhole, playing Bosie to Jagger's Oscar.
She's a blank-faced yet defiant figure who challenges authority
by her very presence.
years on, the Faithfull that we see in her new film, Irina
Palm, is a very different kind of transgressive figure,
yet curiously her undemonstrative blankness is again her strength.
this European co-production -- written by Philippe Blasband,
Sam Gabarski and Martin Herron and directed by Gabarski --
Faithfull plays Maggie, a withdrawn, drab, middle-aged English
widow whose world has narrowed down to the most limited of
routines. Her emotional life revolves around her young grandson,
Ollie (Corey Burke), who is in hospital: he has a life-threatening
illness for which there is little hope apart from an expensive
treatment available only in Australia.
insists to her son (Kevin Bishop), Ollie's father, that she
will raise the money. On a trip to London, looking for work,
she finds herself in Soho, looking at a sign in a window that
says "Hostess wanted". She makes her way downstairs,
where she is interviewed by the owner of a sex club, a polite,
sceptical, middle-aged East European man, Mikki (Miki Manojlovic).
he sees something in her, glimpses potential in her smooth
hands, and offers her work. He has a new service to offer
in his club, he says, an innovative, efficient way of giving
his customers sexual relief. He shows her what's required.
Maggie sits on one side of the wall, a row of clients on the
other: there's a hole between them. She will be anonymous,
unseen. She's naive, uncertain, but also desperate. And, as
it turns out, she is a natural: her touch works wonders, and
clients return in droves.
who hangs some nice pictures on her side of the wall to make
herself feel at home, knows that her son would be devastated
if he discovered how she was raising the money for her grandson.
But she is not completely isolated and begins to develop a
sympathetic relationship with Mikki, deftly portrayed by Manojlovic
as a man who is a mixture of courtly charm and jaded professionalism.
Palm could potentially take any number of directions.
It juggles with our expectations, but it is, at its heart,
a fairytale, a story of tasks and miracles. It is drably shot
and has calculatedly ponderous moments, but there is also
a light-heartedness and comic warmth to it. In an odd way,
it is a film that belongs in the tradition of Calendar
Girls and Educating Rita, a story of older women
stepping into new roles, defying conventions, taking risks,
thumbing their noses at authority or the Establishment or
expectations. The setting is darker, seedier, murkier: the
taboos are greater, the potential for humiliation and danger
more clearly established. But it is the kind of movie that
provides one of Britain's theatrical dames with a leading
might be tempting to wonder how a dame would have played it,
but there's no doubt that Faithfull -- who has taken supporting
roles in a range of movies, from the downbeat Intimacy
to the extravagant Marie Antoinette -- brings a curious
strength to the film. There's a kind of blankness to her performance,
a substantial sense of restraint and awkwardness. She walks
evasively into the frame, as if daring people to notice her.
The character is restrained and repressed, and Faithfull plays
her as if teetering on the edge of somnambulance, in a way
that proves strangely effective -- in this context, a wry
comment or a gesture of quiet defiance are almost confronting.
It's a disarming performance in a disarming film.