My Wonderful Wanda

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

My Wonderful Wanda
"My Wonderful Wanda picks just the right moments to introduce real emotion into the mix." | Photo: Aliocha Merker/Zodiac Pictures

Wanda (Agnieszka Grochowska) returns to Switzerland on a bus. It's full of similarly dressed, similarly laden Polish women, probably on their way to do similar work for wealthy Swiss families whilst - as she has done - leaving their own at home. 70-year-old Josef (André Jung) is relieved to have her back. He complains about insulting treatment received from his interim carer. Wanda is considerate and efficient, respecting that despite his disability he's still a human being and because of it he actually needs the help she's giving. His wife Elsa (Marthe Keller) really doesn't need the help around the house for which she offers an insultingly low additional sum, but she's lost her Portuguese housekeeper and it doesn't occur to her to ask another Swiss person, so Wanda can bargain.

Outside the periphery of these arrangements lies another service which Josef sometimes finds himself wanting in the middle of he night, but Wanda is equally pragmatic where that's concerned, and the pay is better. There's a certain sympathy between the two, both excluded from the joys that others take for granted due to circumstances beyond their control - but are the others really happy? Josef's son Gregi (Jacob Matschenz) is desperately unhappy at the idea of taking over the family business, preferring to spend his time on ornithology and taxidermy like an only slightly less isolated Norman Bates, and hopelessly smitten with our palpably uninterested heroine. His sister Sophie (Birgit Minichmayr), who continually berates him, is jealous of Wanda's place in her father's affections and frustrated that Josef won't conform to her ridiculous ideas about what's good for him. Sophie's lawyer husband Manfred (Anatole Taubman), with whom she seems perpetually on the brink of divorce, is calmer and more reasonable but frequently afraid to speak up. Elsa, trying to keep them all in order and keep up appearances, knows she's onto a loser.

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Presented in three acts, Bettina Oberli's vigorous comedy drama spends the first getting to now these various characters and teasing out the various prejudices and abuses within the household, then throws it all up in the air at the start of the next with development which pushes every other concern into the background and puts Wanda under a degree of scrutiny she has never faced before. A level-headed woman who retains her dignity even in the most trying situations, she is the solid core around which others whirl madly. It's not until the very end of the film that we really get a sense of what she wants - indeed, until that point she doesn't seem wholly certain herself - but when she finally asserts herself, her simple honesty puts everything else in the shade.

Well paced and energetic, My Wonderful Wanda picks just the right moments to introduce real emotion into the mix. Its blend of satire, farce and human drama doesn't always work, and towards the end what makes sense for the characters is sometimes ignored for the sake of the plot, but there's a lot to like about it. Grochowska is excellent, keeping it real regardless of what else is happening. It's as if she were in a different film, but in a good way. Minichmayr is endlessly entertaining to watch and imbues her character with a measure of tragedy as her real emotions are drowned out by her own thunder.

The bright, widescreen photography (which changes abruptly during the one scene set in Poland) adds to the upbeat atmosphere whilst contributing to the narrative around inequality, and production designer Marion Schramm does an excellent job of making the large Swiss house look expensive without making it look dull. Laura Locher's wonderfully detailed costumes tell stories of their own. Oberli presents us with a setting that looks heavenly but whose characters can only hope to escape their hellish unhappiness by recognising each other's humanity.

Reviewed on: 09 Jun 2021
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Wanda nurses the patriarch of the wealthy Wegmeister-Gloor family. When an unexpected complication arises, family secrets come to light.


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