Mug (or Twarz which is Polish for “face” or “mug”) is the latest dark comedy written and directed by Małgorzata Szumowska that won the Silver Bear (runner-up award) at the 68th Berlin Film Festival.
This really is a film of two halves: the first being the snapshot into the lives of this Polish family as they go about their business; working, eating, celebrating and just generally living but even these everyday occurrences are engrossing to watch. The dialogue used is entirely that what you would expect from a family with hilarity intertwined with anger and frustration. Almost immediately you get a feel for the dynamics in this family (a damning scene of the family arguing over the hospitality of the UK towards Polish immigrants.
It seems a great big row about money and the future gives a great insight into the heads of everyone involved), but it focusses mostly on Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz). He has a decent, easy-going life: working on a construction site (incidentally they are building the worlds largest statue of Jesus), listening to heavy metal music way too loud and the rest of his time is taken up being spent with his girlfriend, Dagmara (Malgorzata Gorol). On top of all this he just comes across as a really nice guy.
The second half of this film details the aftermath of an accident on the construction site that robs Jacek of his face and voice (and his lustrous long Rock hair). A long period of rehabilitation in the hospital after a pioneering face transplant results in a much changed world when he eventually gets out. Everyone is affected in some way or other by this new version of Jacek and it appears that the only person who is fighting in his corner is his sister (Agnieszka Podsiadlik), as she goes about trying to get everyone to realise that he is still the same person he was beforehand and not to judge him by the way he looks now.
Mug is beautifully shot by Michal Englert; taking in the stunning countryside around Świebodzin but also capturing Jacek’s, and everyone else’s, fears and worries, and it has been superbly put together by Szumowska. Capturing the strain and hopes weighing on Jacek as he attempts to put his life, and his love for Dagmara, back together again in some semblance of his past, to carry on where he left off before the accident.
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You get a taste in the humour to come as it opens on an Underwear Sale. However, this isn’t a sale of underwear, but a sale that requires everyone to strip down to their underwear before being allowed into the shop! Surreal, yet providing a knowing nod towards society. And this view on people continues throughout as the community reacts to the accident and this “new” person who has appeared. The jokes do sometimes cross the lines of decency as nothing seems to be too low, but for the most part it is good-natured. Balancing out the relatively dark tones of the anguish Jacek and his family have to endure, the comedy is definitely needed but also lifts the film above the drama.
Beauty may only be skin deep, it is love that runs much deeper and Mug takes that idea into its stride and keeps on going, just like Jacek. Małgorzata Szumowska is one of Poland’s rising stars it seems and her ability really shows here as she crafts this story superbly well and delivers a heartwarming but also demoralising tale. I’m excited to find out about her other films after seeing this one; and what is a film festival for, if not to discover new voices?