Bumpy drama is a bit of a grind
comes with its own ever-soslightly naughty floorshow. Jugglers would have done equally as well. So would contortionists.
The women, all veteran burlesque performers, reveal impressive reserves of character and earthy zest. Sadly, their mundane dialogue, as is often the case when Anglophone characters speak in foreignlanguage films, comes across as oddly distant and criminally under-directed.
The good news is that Amalric finds space to create another of his engaging, supernaturally sleazy outsiders. Wearing an absurd collar and a deeply unnecessary moustache, he flings equal degrees of poignancy and hopelessness about the screen. Playing a former television producer who has become hopelessly estranged from his family, Amalric rails and flails with a sincerity that few other contemporary thespians can manage.
It’s just a shame that, on this occasion, this fine actor didn’t have an equally talented artist behind the camera. Weirdly, the Jury at Cannes thought differently and awarded Amalric the best director prize. Don’t do that, guys. It will only encourage him. HUH? WEIRD, farcical, broad – one might as well attempt to review a bicycle pump on these pages as this Polish bodice-ripper. Sluby Panienskie (Maiden’s Vows) is an 1832 mock-heroic poem by Aleksander Fredro, adapted here into a racy pantomime with a selfreflexive, contemporary twist.
At least we think that’s what the film-makers were going for. How else might one account for the sudden cutaways to the principals sipping coffee from paper cups, or the frequent appearance of mobile phones in a pre-Victorian romcom?
The plot, when it isn’t being wildly anachronistic, is old by geological standards. Two 19th-century babes swear off men just as their father arranges husbands for them. And who could blame them? The witty, stupendously beautiful Clara (Marta Zmuda-Trzebiatowska) simply can’t abide the overbearing affections of her intended, a man-boy named Albin who makes The Hulk look mature and restrained. Her timid sister (Edith Olszowka) is lumbered with a visiting Warsaw dandy who can’t keep his eyes open when she speaks. Shenanigans soon follow.
Somewhere in the music hall comings and goings, things seem to work out for everybody concerned. Frankly, it’s hard to tell. Unlike, say, Michael Winterbottom’s similarly themed A Cock and Bull Story, there are no clear indicators to denote shifts between diegetic action and whispered asides.
The players occasionally adopt the elegant octosyllables of the source material and produce the same dramatic rhythms as Pride and Prejudice. They are equally likely to ogle naked ladies and demonstrate uses for a chamber pot. We can’t imagine that Austen fans will approve of the urinating or the whoring, roaring romantic hero, but Benny Hill fans might dig it.
American exotica: Linda Marraccini as Dirty Martini in On Tour