Winner of last year’s Grand Jury prize at the Berlinale, this Polish tragicomedy about a facial transplant patient doubles up as a droll and caustic tale about appearances. It sees carefree and mildly xenophobic metalhead Jacek (Mateusz Kościukiewicz) left disfigured after a workplace accident, and through his story, director Małgorzata Szumowska weaves a deadpan social commentary about the state of modern Poland, as well as dormant hypocrisy and primal reactions that lie below polite smiles and devout attitudes. Szumowska has previously explored the existential dread that can decry from a fractured tension between body and soul, most notably in her 2015 effort Body. Her darkly playful and distinctively non-melodramatic touch works wonders here, when her central protagonist is the recipient of Poland’s first face transplant and his life is irreversibly altered. She explores how change can often bring about the worst in others and shows how the world can appear deformed via a lensing that mimics impaired vision, with sharp central images contrasting with the blurrier edges of the screen. This stylistic choice and the overall message may be a bit too broad for its own good, but the film works as an uneven but frequently poignant fable about compassion. Special mention goes to Kościukiewicz, who acts under prosthetic makeup and in silence for a significant portion of the film, and still manages to make his performance wonderfully expressive.
Mug (Twarz) | Directed by Małgorzata Szumowska (Poland, 2018), with Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Malgorzata Gorol. Starts March 14.
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