“Irina Palm” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irina_Palm) is a film that is blessed by the presence of Marianne Faithful, whose career began in the 1960s. She has morphed from pop singer to pop concubine, to drug addict, to author, and finally to actor. She has had a tough life but she does not seem to be weary or tired. She looks like she has doubled in size over the years, but she still has that beautiful face and smoky voice. Her breasts have grown and her shoulders have rounded, but she remains a stunning person. Faithful plays Maggie, a grandmother whose grandson is very ill and who has a son who seems to be caught in a loveless marriage and who also seems to be unemployed. As luck would have it the only way to save the boy’s life is to receive treatment in Australia, which his parents cannot afford. Maggie must set out to find a job to help raise the funds for the life-saving journey. She is untrained, unskilled, and has never worked. She finally lands a job as a “hostess” in a sex emporium in London. Her initial revulsion to her job duties fades as she begins to excel in her craft and begins to earn money. Ultimately, she earns enough to send the son, his wife, and the grandson to Australia. This is not the first movie to have a plot where someone’s illness jumpstarts a new career for a loved one, but usually it has involved robbing banks rather than rubbing a body part.
Faithful makes the movie. She is totally believable and does not condescend to the material or the character. I was moved by her determination to succeed even in an industry where success may come naturally- if you’ll pardon the pun.
The movie begins with aerial shots of one of those picturesque English towns where everything is made of field stone, and nothing has changed in 100 years. I cannot imagine living in one of these hamlets where all there is to do is watch the BBC and go to the local pub. I suspect they are much better to look at than to live in. The film shines light on some of Maggie’s friends and neighbors, who are stuffy, unattractive and judgmental. Faithful does a good job of portraying her character’s glee at sharing her job duties with her circle of friends, one of whom had an affair with Maggie’s dead husband. Maggie delights in outing the woman in a local store where the local women gather to pass judgment on each other. The other woman was played by Jennie Agutter, who is years past was in “Logan’s Run” and “An American Werewolf in London.” At least from how she appears in the film, the years have not been as kind to her as they have been to Faithful.
For me, there are two very powerful scenes in the film. The first is at its beginning where Faithful in cramming into a small car with her son who is driving them to the hospital. She has a huge teddy bear on her lap to give to her grandson. The trees are leafless and the weather is cold. The ordinariness of these two people came through so well. It could have been any of us, and no matter how special we may think we are, we live in drab towns and we must go to the hospital to visit loved ones- without so much as a sound bite on Fox news as to our nobility. The film captured this nobility within the mundane very successfully. The second strong scene is where Maggie’s son confronts her about her new career. He calls her a whore and forbids her to return to her work. Faithful captures Maggie’s hurt and incredulity at her son’s ungratefulness. She also conveys Maggie’s fear that she will lose the excitement and worth that she feels from having a job in London- even if that job is on the margins of society.
“Irina Palm” is a very good movie with a great actor. It is the kind of movie that Hollywood just could not pull off. It would have to be very judgmental and sensationalized. Instead here we have a slice of life where a person of modest background is trying to do something decent with limited resources, like most of us, I think. Finally, it is very worth the investment of two hours to see Marianne Faithful in action.