Mug (4 stars)

Mug

A face transplant forces a man to see the world afresh in a comedic and critical Polish drama

Scratch the surface of a seemingly respectable society and you will uncover a world of primal urges and blind prejudices in Mug (Twarz). Malgorzata Szumowska's mix of social satire and identity crisis may be a little scattershot at times but it builds into a damning report on modern Poland.

Leather-clad labourer Jacek (Mateusz Kościukiewicz) roars through life with little regard for others. A cocky bad boy with Wolverine-style facial hair, he works on a building site near the Polish-German border where they are constructing the biggest statue of Christ the world has ever seen.

Shortly after proposing to his girlfriend Dagmara (Małgorzata Gorol), Jacek suffers a work accident. He subsequently becomes the first person in Poland to receive a face transplant. Transformed into a freak, he loses friendships, family support and all the certainties that had once made his existence so carefree.

The make-up department do such an impressive job with Jacek's physical transformation that you half suspect that they have cast a different actor. Kościukiewicz shows considerable range in a performance that effectively portrays the before and after personalities of the character, whilst conveying the emotional trauma he suffers.

Jacek's plight forces him to consider how much of his life was merely skin deep. It also allows Szumowska to take pot shots at every aspect of a church and state that seem indifferent to his suffering. The church is a particular target for her wrath and the attempt to perform an exorcism on Jacek is one of the film's comic highlights.

Scattering images and influences that seem to stretch from Preston Sturges to Theo Angelopoulos, Mug treads a fine balance between freewheeling comic exuberance and the urge to comment on the state of Poland. In the end, we are witness to a country that is careering towards hell with a giant statue to point the way.

Selected release from Fri 7 Dec.

Mug

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Poland
  • 1h 31min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Malgorzata Szumowska
  • Cast: Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Malgorzata Gorol
  • UK release: 7 December 2018

Jacek (Kościukiewicz) is a cocky construction worker who suffers an accident and gets a face transplant. Szumowska’s film is a mix of social satire and identity crisis which treads a fine balance between comic exuberance and the urge to comment on the state of Poland.

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