“Can you wank me off?”
Years ago, I took a philosophy class in which the instructor delighted in creating moral dilemmas for the students to mull over. “Is it alright to steal?” he’d ask, and after the students gave a resounding “NO!” he’d come back with the question, “what if you are starving? What if your children are starving?” This generated some lively debates, but more than that, it made us all think. Some students, however, could not handle the gray areas of morality, and would become downright annoyed with the moral scenarios presented in class–as if the instructor was cheating somehow.
Anyway, these memories came to mind when I watched the entertaining film, Irina Palm directed by Sam Garbarski and starring Marianne Faithfull. The film’s premise is simple: Maggie (Marianne Faithfull) is a 50-year-old widow who lives in a small village. Maggie doesn’t come across as a particularly happy person. Rather she seems to just exist, but then again, she doesn’t have much to be happy about. Her small grandson, Ollie (Corey Burke) is hospitalized and dying from a terminal disease. She’s had to sell her home to Jane (Jenny Agutter)–a snotty bitch who loves to patronize Maggie while parading her behaviour as ‘friendship.’
A small glimmer of hope appears in the form of an offer of pro-bono experimental treatment in Australia. The problem is MONEY. Somehow, Ollie’s parents Tom and Sarah (Kevin Bishop & Siobhan Hewlett) have to come up with enough money for the airfare and hotels during their stay. Maggie has already sold her house to help; there’s nothing left to sell.
Despondent and desperate, Maggie heads to London. Wandering into Soho, she sees a sign offering employment for a ‘hostess.’ Maggie steps into the tawdry “Sex World” where she promptly discovers from the club’s taciturn owner, Miki (Miki Manojlovic) just what a ‘euphemism’ is when he explains what a hostess actually does. At this point, Maggie seems wildly out-of-place inside the club. She’s dumpy, middle-aged and wrapped up in a coat–contrast this to the lithe, naked, and bejeweled bodies of the pole dancers, and well…you come to the conclusion that Maggie’s out-of-her-depth.
But Miki sees something in Maggie. Does he think she’s dependable? Does he recognize that perhaps maturity brings a certain patience? Who knows. The film doesn’t clarify the point, so it’s left for the viewer to speculate why Miki hires Maggie on the spot. Her job: she’s the club’s wanker, and that’s what she does to earn money. It would spoil the film to tell you what happens in the club–let’s just say that Maggie has already crossed one boundary she thought she’d never face, but in her new career, she does discover her moral limits.
I told a few people about Irina Palm. One person shrieked, “well that’s one thing I know I’ll NEVER do,” while someone else thought the film had an interesting premise. I think the film is fascinating, and its very point seems to be that here’s this middle-aged woman chosing to do something she thought she’d never do. Maggie thinks that life has nothing else to offer, but adversity changes all that. The plot certainly generated some lively discussions around my house.
The film has some great touches of humour. However, that said, let’s not forget that the sex industry includes a great deal of depersonalization. The film sugarcoats this aspect of things, making SEX WORLD a far nicer, less threatening place for Maggie. While I enjoyed Irina Palm , somehow I can’t help but imagine the film rewritten with no grandchild for Maggie to save. I suspect this would have been a much more interesting, and challenging film if Maggie had been a character who wanked for a living–but without an ‘excuse.’