Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Marygoround is the perfect showcase for Misiorowska." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Early on in Daria Woszek's daring dark comedy, we see heroine Maria (Grazyna Misiorowska) visiting her doctor. It's her 50th birthday and she's struggling with hot flushes brought on by menopause. Deeply uninterested in her experience, he asks if there has been any change in her condition - if she is, in fact, still a virgin. it's a medically irrelevant question but represents the sort of intrusiveness that many female viewers will be accustomed to, and it reflects attitudes to Maria more widely. She's a freak, a tragic figure, or just someone whom there is no point in paying heed to at all. There is an implication that her personhood is defined by her sexual status, and that that, in turn, is determined by what she does with her body.

From Maria's perspective, things look very different.

Copy picture

Superficially, this is a story about awakening and change, but the clue is in the English title (the original Polish one takes us somewhere rather different. Maria is circling all the way around, taking leave of herself and coming back to herself. She is, at the outset, a complete person - more so than most characters in screen drama - and the journey she is about to experience will not make her any less herself, nor compromise her command of her own destiny.

The journey begins with a simple mistake. Misunderstanding the doctor's instructions, Maria overdoses on synthetic oestrogen. The result is something that her niece Helena (Helena Sujecka) - crashing at her place after a break-up - describes as a 'trip', and it does seem to have a hallucinatory quality. Suddenly this dour, quietly respectable woman with an apartment full of Catholic iconography is no longer able to keep her pent-up sexual imagination under control.

That doesn't mean that she starts making herself available to men like the heroines of endless lazy porn films. It's an internal experience, brilliantly realised onscreen. It's about long, hot baths beneath a picture of Jesus, romance novels and cheesy soap operas, and a habitat whose virginal blues are suddenly flooded with pink and red light. Flowers seem to bloom out of nowhere as Maria gains a fresh understanding of herself. Her tightly bound red hair unfurls into a billowing cloud. She still looks 50, but 50 suddenly looks sensual.

Gorgeously photographed by Michal Pukowiec and enriched by Maja Gralak's set decoration, which is full of character detail, Marygoround is the perfect showcase for Misiorowska who, like Woszek, is making her feature film d├ębut here. She's an experienced theatre actress and the film often has a theatrical character to it, especially as so much of it takes place within the apartment, but the camera allows for a degree of nuance that would be difficult to communicate to a sizeable audience from the stage. It also allows Woszek more room to play with locations, creating a heightened reality - even before the oestrogen - in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality blur.

It's this use of fantasy that really marks the film out (as well as getting it a spot at Fantasia 2020), opening the door to a world in which Maria's sexual explorations are not limited by other people's attitudes towards her - not by the sidelining of post-menopausal women and not by the social and religious restrictions placed on women's lives more generally. It's a world in which, most radically, her fulfilment does not depend on a man. When she embarks on a tentative fling with a fashion boutique employee (Pawel Smagala), it's not entirely clear if he's a real man taking advantage of her perceived vulnerability or a figure developed in her fantasy and, as such, ultimately subject to her control. Either way, she knows what she wants, and she knows when she wants it to stop.

This secret interiority opens up the prospect of a world of older women beyond the control of men, a bold conjecture in the conservative environment of today's Poland. It marks Woszek out as a filmmaker not afraid of stepping on toes, a clear new voice in Polish cinema sounding a call to liberation.

Reviewed on: 02 Sep 2020
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When a small town grocery workers gets hormone replacement therapy, she undergoes a sexual awakening - but with something darker lurking just under the surface.

Director: Daria Woszek

Writer: Sylwester Piechura, Aleksandra Swierk

Starring: Grazyna Misiorowska, Janusz Chabior, Barbara Kurzaj, Magdalena Kolesnik

Year: 2020

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Poland


Fantasia 2020

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