Irina Palm (2007) • UK

Rarely have I enjoyed a film this much when I also found so much wrong with it. The biggest reasons for liking Irina Palm are Marianne Faithfull and Miki Manojlovic. They are terrific, both humble and genuine in their roles of hand-jobbist and sex-club owner, respectively. I hesitate to call them prostitute and pimp because that would grossly overstate their actual vocations, and it's gross overstatements that slightly mar this otherwise delightful film about a woman who, apparently, stoops to a pretty low standard in her efforts to save the life of her gravely ill grandson.

I write apparently because I couldn't help but conclude from this film that giving hand-jobs for a living is not all that bad. Maggie (Marianne Faithful) receives the moral high ground in her confrontations with both her friends and her son when the truth of her vocation is revealed. Her son makes a fool of himself, vastly over-acting and over-reacting when he discovers his mother working in a sex club. He sees her dressed in a typical day dress walking through the club. All the other women are half naked but her son concludes that she is working as a whore. He calls her a whore, screams it at her without a single question. As the audience we see this display of ridiculous emotion as misplaced. Maggie's daughter-in-law, who up to this point didn't seem to care if her son lived or died, rises to the defense of her mother-in-law. Maggie entered this degrading lifestyle to save her grandson.

Maggie finds strength and a new, authentic life in refusing to accompany her son and grandson to Australia for the operation that will extend the grandson's life, and instead returns to the sex club and kisses (and presumably falls in love with) the sex club owner, who, in response to Maggie's declaration that she likes his smile, affirming their budding closeness, says "I like the way you work." Gracious me.

Dorka Gryllus is also wonderful as the young veteran glory-hole worker but after developing her character, and her relationship with Maggie, she is abruptly tossed aside. The two of them had become friends, but Louisa (Gryllus) is unrealistically fired because Maggie has taken away all her clients. On her way out, Louisa curses Maggie who has no idea why. When Maggie later approaches Louisa at her home in a run down housing project (isn't that where you'd expect a glory-hole worker to live?) to attempt reconciliation, Louisa opens up a can of class-consciously aware worms in response, but then is shut out, turned off, and eliminated from the rest of the film entirely.

The script to Irina Palm (palm, hand-job, get it?) has to have some tongue planted firmly in cheek. For those who are curious, there are no penises shown in the film, only arm movements and careful camera angles that suggest the size of the unseen units must average one to two feet in length. The rise of this mild-mannered, fifty-year-old grandma who can't even say the f-word, from nobody to the "best right hand in London", with men in long queues to receive her services is absurd. It's just not that kind of skill. It's a very small segment of a larger talent pool.

Maggie wears her right arm in a sling for most of the film, suffering from penis elbow, which is akin to tennis elbow only from a different vocation. Enjoy the film and don't sweat the details of this simple and touching story, just soak in the wonderful performances amidst the (inexplicably chosen) mildly raunchy milieu.


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