Irina Palm (*)
Maggie, a.k.a. Irina Palm, the heroine of Sam Garbarski’s latest film, is a poor, 50-something widow who gets a job jerking men off at a London sex club in order to pay for her ill grandson’s operation. She is played by legendary singer and hard-liver Marianne Faithfull. Despite this—and against all logical principles of storytelling and moviemaking—Irina Palm is basically dull and humourless. It trusts the authenticity of its conceit, and squanders the talents of its lead, a woman famous for her wryness.
Irina Palm’s primitive script explains little about the rationale that leads Maggie into sex work. Minutes into the film, we see her enter a club and get the job that gives her her titular pseudonym; at this point we’re essentially ignorant of her financial situation, and of the circumstances of her widowhood. Garbarski slowly fills in the gaps, but this is the editing of a novice: all he seems concerned with is getting Maggie to the club so he can dwell on the outrageousness of her predicament, which doesn’t actually make much sense (she works behind a wall with an automated glory hole, a contrivance explained by a quick quip from the club’s manager: “I see them in Japan; no one else here has anything like this.”). There is a lot of prudery to such clunks: the same driving techno music, for instance, plays every time Maggie opens the door to her new workplace.
Irina Palm does get a little funny. This can’t be helped, but Garbarski, who is committed to his film’s maudlin qualities, can’t see what might make things really clever and satirical. Maggie injures her elbow after she becomes a superstar at her job, and this is referred to, with numbing repetition, as “penis elbow.” The stupid joke gets stupider when Maggie has to go to her local convenience store and explain her sling to acquaintances. Garbarski only seems to want us to pity her, to feel embarrassed for her as she prevaricates, even though he’s got the great, shameless Faithfull spitting out her lines (the woman played God on AbFab, for crying out loud). Irina Palm is best summed up by Maggie’s laconic lament to her boss about her grandson: “He’s dying. I’m wanking. It’s a mess.”
Irina Palm is now playing at the Carlton (20 Carlton St.).