FNE at Berlinale 2018: Review: Competition: Mug / Twarz

Written by
Twarz, dir. Małgorzata Szumowska Twarz, dir. Małgorzata Szumowska

BERLIN: Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska arrives back in the main competition with her latest film Mug after winning the Best Director prize here with her film Body in 2015. It’s another noteworthy entry from this masterful director who is now in the prime of her career and fully in command of her art.

Szumowska co-wrote the script with Michal Englert who is also DoP on the film and the story incorporates themes that run through her earlier work such as the role of the Catholic Church especially in rural Poland and the intolerance that she sees in Polish society.

Early in the film we see a very funny scene where shoppers in the small town where the film is set slog it out to grab consumer goods in a store promotion that requires the shoppers to appear in their underwear.  Our hero Jacek played by Mateusz Kościukiewicz is among them and with his good looks and long hair he looks like a cool guy especially compared to his citizens.  Jacek loves heavy metal and his dog and bombing around his little car. He and his  girlfriend Dagmara played by Małgorzata Gorol enjoy dancing and generally having a good time and being the local misfit.  Jacek works on a local building site where the world’s largest statue of Jesus is being constructed. This is based by the way on a real life small town of Swiebodzin in Poland where in 2010 the world’s largest statue of Christ was built and was entered the Guinness Book of Records.

Jacek’s rather carefree existence is thrown into chaos though when he suffers a terrible accident at work and literally falls down through the inside of the statue he is working on and ends up horribly disfigured.  The doctors manage to save his life and to deal with his disfigurement he becomes the first face transplant patient in Poland.  Despite his new face he remains badly disfigured and he also can no longer recognise himself when he looks in the mirror.

The statue of Jesus grows taller and taller but the Catholic priest played by Roman Gancarczyk offers him little sympathy.  Meanwhile his girlfriend the shallow party girl Dagmara who he had hoped to marry deserts him and his mother played by Anna Tomaszewska cruelly declares that this is no longer the face of her son.  The only person who stands by him is his sister Agnieszka Podsiadlik who has her own problems with a only partly satisfying marriage to her husband played by Robert Talarczyk and their two small children.    Jacek’s sister helps Jacek with his rehabilitation and tries to keep him on course to be able to cope with his new reality.  She feels trapped in the small town and she would like to see Jacek be able to get out. But the cruelty and small mindedness of the residents of this small town is revealed in their treatment of Jacek.

Szumowska has approached the story as a fable for modern Poland and she takes an acerbic look at life in the provinces of her native country.  Told as a tragicomedy the forces of consumerism and bigotry are also taken seriously and Szumowska warns that she thinks this potent mix may have dangerous consequences.

Mug (Poland)

Directed by Małgorzata Szumowska

Cast: Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Małgorzata Gorol, Roman Gancarczyk, Dariusz Chojnacki, Robert Talarczyk, Anna Tomaszewska, Martyna Krzysztofik

Produced by Nowhere
Coproduced by the Krakow Festival Office
Supported by the Polish Film Institute