Sunday, 30 August 2015

Moonlighting (1982)

I've been wanting to see Moonlighting for some time, but bizarrely the only DVD I could get my hands on was an Italian one. I recall my dad watching this one in the 80s and, being a fan of the Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski - Deep End is one of my all time favourite films - I really wanted to see this now with adult eyes. 

The movie takes place in London, during the winter of 1981 when Poland was gripped suddenly by martial law, banning the Solidarity movement overnight. Our four protagonists, led by Jeremy Irons' Nowak, are cast adrift in Kensington on tourist visas doing the titular 'moonlighting'; renovating an expensive town house for a corrupt Polish official. Nowak, the only English speaker in the group learns of the situation back home and tries desperately to keep his comrades in the dark, blissfully ignorant.

Where Skolimowski excels as a storyteller and film maker is in his ability to explore the themes of isolation, of being an outsider in a strange land. As an emigre living in working in England himself, this obviously came naturally to him, but he has an uncanny ability to present the West to Western eyes in an alien manner that we haven't previously considered ourselves. A good example of this is Deep End which was filmed both here and in Germany (though set exclusively in London) and concerned the outsider, isolated nature of a teenage school leaver entering the adult world of work at a local swimming baths. London may have been his home, but its viewed anew and in a peculiar manner as he begins his daily routine and falls in love for the first time. Here in Moonlighting, Skolimowski has the perfect opportunity to explore these themes for real outsiders, unfamiliar with the capital and the country itself, and the scene in which our four labourers enter a supermarket for the first time is marvellously realised; their eyes agog in wonder and awe at the luxuries and goods so easily on offer in this capitalist country.

Several passages within the film occurs in unsubtitled Polish as a highly convincing Irons talks with his clueless comrades played by Eugene Lipinski, Jiri Stanislaw and Eugeniusz Haczkiewicz. This actually allows us to emphathise with them, lost in a strange land with no ability to communicate with the outside world. In this respect, the film hasn't dated at all;  Polish workmen having become ubiquitous here in the UK in the last ten years since the country joined the EU - a move that was unthinkable back in the early 80s.

Isolation is further addressed when Nowak learns of the political unrest in his homeland and chooses to keep this development a secret. It's a huge burden on Nowak and we are privy to his thoughts thanks to a well worked voice over from Irons which explores his anguish and inner turmoils. As money becomes tighter with every passing day, Nowak begins to shoplift - out of necessity at first but soon this clearly becomes a challenge he secretly enjoys, allowing him some control over events that are rapidly spiralling away from him.

Skolimowski's skill at making us see our everyday society afresh is further delivered by the comparisons he makes between communist Poland and Thatcherite Britain. It is clear to us that he views both countries as cold, austere and merciless, run by snooty petty bureaucrats and jobsworths and he skilfully depicts the early days of Tory rule with its widening gulf between the rich and the poor, in the scenes of shoplifting and comfortable Kensington life.

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