Deborah Ross

Drawing a blank | 11 June 2008

<strong>Irina Palm</strong><br /> <em>15, Barbican and key cities </em>

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Irina Palm

15, Barbican and key cities

The big film this week is, I suppose, The Incredible Hulk but I chose not to see it because, aside from anything else, isn’t this the second Hulk film in about ten minutes? When was the Ang Lee one? I have no idea why it’s come round again so soon. Perhaps it’s to do with the Hulk himself, who stormed Marvel’s production offices saying, ‘Why no one make another Hulk? It make Hulk mad. Make Hulk film or Hulk smash truck then Hulk smash you.’ Well, I certainly won’t support such behaviour so, instead, chose to see the smaller, quieter film, Irina Palm. Was Bubbles best pleased? He was not. ‘Bubbles want see Hulk,’ he said. ‘No make Bubbles mad or Bubbles swish water then Bubbles swish you.’ Bubbles does so like to go into character. Last week, he was Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a whole afternoon.

So, Irina Palm, which I willed to be good, rather as one cheers on Tim Henman. Come on, little underdoggy man, show us what you can do! It’s about a widowed grandmother, Maggie, who ends up working in the sex trade to raise money for her sick grandson, whose only hope is a new medical treatment available only in Australia. It’s a ‘tragicomedy’, stars Marianne Faithfull — ‘a true artist’, according to my press notes — and it was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, which I assumed was a recommendation, but in future will take as a warning. Oh, no, it’s the Golden Bear. Quick, go the other way! This is a terrible, preposterous film that is also horrible and hateful and has the worst soundtrack ever; the same four doomy notes played loudly and over and over. At one point, I wanted to bash my head on the seat in front, if only for the respite of a short period of unconsciousness. (‘Ha! Bubbles right! You should listen to Bubbles! You should go Hulk...!’ )

It opens with Maggie; poor, depressed, frumpy, desperate Maggie. She’s already sold up her house and is in debt up to her eyeballs to pay for the treatment her grandson has received thus far in the UK. What? Since when did you suddenly have to start paying for sick British children in the UK? Since screenwriters needed grannies to be broke and desperate, I guess. Anyway, after several unsuccessful attempts to get a job, Maggie finds herself in the streets of Soho where her eye is caught by a poster in the window of a shop called Sexy World: ‘Hostess wanted. Xcellent Rates’. She enters, and Miki (Miki Manojlovic), the owner of the shop, explains to her that ‘hostess’ is a euphemism for ‘whore’. Perhaps to avoid anything truly uncomfortable, the filmmakers contrive to make her job one which involves no penetration or face-to-face contact with clients. Instead, she sits alone in a Sexy World room with a hole in the wall, giving satisfaction with her right hand, which proves more than capable. Indeed, she is so skilled that men are soon lining up and she adopts the pseudonym Irina Palm, possibly after rejecting Widow Wanky, although I couldn’t say for sure, as we are never told.

OK, Marianne Faithfull isn’t bad, but neither is she given anything to be good with. Maggie is mostly a lethargic blank. As for the script, it veers between appallingly predictable — ‘I’m just business to you,’ Maggie even says to Miki at one point — and just appalling, full-stop. When her son, Tom, finds out what she has been up to, as he inevitably does, and she says he doesn’t understand, he comes back, shoutingly, with something like, ‘There are many things I don’t understand. I don’t understand black holes. I don’t understand the Beatles...’ At this point, I’m afraid, I laughed, probably out of embarrassment for the actor (Kevin Bishop). But even if his outrage had been believable, the film wants us to be outraged at that outrage. Calm down, dear, your mother is only masturbating anonymous men. I don’t know how the original meeting between director Sam Garbarski and screenwriters Martin Herron and Philippe Blasband went, but imagine that at some point someone probably said, ‘If we throw in a sick kiddie, it’ll make everything OK.’

Mostly, this is a film that asks us to believe in the redemptive and transformative powers of the hard-core sex industry, and Bubbles and I didn’t like it one bit. Go see Hulk. Do.