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Małgorzata Szumowska’s Twarz (Polish for “face” or “mug”, the latter of which is the film’s English title) delivers the pleasure of vigorous storytelling. It is scabrous, mysterious and surprisingly emotional – inspired partly by the giant statue of Christ the King in Świebodzin in western Poland, completed in 2010, the tallest statue of Jesus in the world and a fierce religious and nationalist symbol. It is the face of patriotic Poland, and this is a film to put you in mind of Eliot’s lines about preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet.
Szumowska’s movie imagines a guy named Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), employed as a builder on a giant statue like this as it begins to loom surreally over the landscape. He is an amiably scruffy, long-haired metalhead living at home with his extended family, whom he annoys with his vague plans to move to London. His brash brother-in-law (Robert Talarczyk) – a man with a fondness for jokes about blacks, Muslims and Jews – tells him the Brits are “wised up” to immigrants these days and won’t let him in; he says this, moreover, with every appearance of respect. Szumowska has perhaps moved the time period forward to a Brexit-zeitgeist. Jacek has a girlfriend (Małgorzata Gorol), but the person who seems to love him most is his sister (Agniezska Podsiadlik). All these people have something in common – they are exasperated by Jacek’s appearance: dishevelled, grinningly cheeky.
Then Jacek is involved in a horrible accident at work. Standing on Jesus’s neck, preparing for his huge head to be lowered on to the shoulders, Jacek stumbles and falls face-first into Jesus’s huge hollow concrete torso. His injuries are horrendous and he has to have a face transplant, which is reasonably successful. His family, girlfriend and local priest have to decide how much they want to chip in for Jacek’s continuing medical bills and how they feel about someone with what seems like a new identity.
Mug is a strange, engaging film – well and potently acted and directed, a drama that puts you inside its extended community with a mix of robust realism and a streak of fantasy comedy. The first scene is a bizarre “underwear sale” at an out-of-town hypermarket – not a sale of underwear, but a sale in which buyers must first strip down to their underwear before they stampede into the shop, perhaps to make the inevitable physical tussles over bargain flatscreen TVs fairer, or perhaps just for the spectacle – a dream vision of the consumerism and undignified greed over which Giant Jesus impassively presides.
And what does Jacek’s new face symbolise? Perhaps nothing very much at all. He suffers as no one else in his community suffers, and certainly not the priest (Roman Gancarczyk), who has theoretically put Jesus’s suffering at the centre of his own vocation. And Jacek endures his suffering with unassuming dignity and integrity as he is betrayed or let down by everyone but his sister. It is an absorbing and strange story, expertly managed.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Mug review – metalhead meets giant Jesus in peculiar Polish comedy | Berlin film festival