Malgorzata Szumowska again casts a critical eye on Poland but through a different lens this time.


Malgorzata Gorol


There is a scene early on in this Polish film in which a central character, Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), talks of possibly moving to England and is immediately warned of the hostility he may now encounter here. However, it is soon clear that Jacek's family are themselves totally prejudiced against those whom they see as outsiders in Polish society such as gypsies and Muslims. This caustic view of attitudes in Poland today comes as no surprise since Mug is the work of Malgorzata Szumowska who, working here as before with Michal Englert, gave us in 2013 a powerful work, In the Name of... which portrayed a priest whose standing was threatened by his homosexuality. 


However, In the Name of... was a drama whereas Mug is something of a fable told in terms of black comedy. Its opening scene features crowds at a Christmas Sale in a store which, as a gimmick, allows would-be purchasers to stampede in when the doors are opened but requires them to do so wearing only  their underwear. That is a sequence that immediately alerts us to the fact that Mug is not a naturalistic work even if what it has to say amounts to an indictment of attitudes present in Polish society as it exists today. Central to Mug is the way that Jacek is treated when he has a major accident that necessitates a facial transplant. In keeping with the tone of the film, this accident occurs when he has a fall while working on the erection of a statue of Christ designed to be even bigger than the one that overlooks Rio de Janeiro (this is not a fantastic notion since just such a statue was erected in Western Poland in 2000).


Given Jacek's inability to speak clearly as before and the fact that his new face is sufficiently scarred to put people off, he has now become a figure representative of the unacceptable other: his fiancée, Dagmar (Malgorzata Gorol), quickly rejects him and takes up with another man and his mother (Anna Tomaszewska) finds him so alien that she persuades the local priest (Roman Gancarczyk) that the transplant has left him possessed and in need of an exorcism. Jacek's sister (Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is one of the few to regard him humanely and the Church, if not necessarily Christianity, is viewed critically.


The peaceful landscape in which the tale is set provides an effective counterpoint to the behaviour of the people and Mug carries some weight.  Yet the decision to present this social critique in terms of black comedy produces uneasy results. Jacek's situation invites sympathy not far short of the concern felt for the interracial couple in Fassbinder's masterly Fear Eats the Soul (1973), another condemnation of a society's attitudes. But here Jacek's plight undermines the comic element that in any case gets out of hand when the scene of the attempted exorcism plays like a parody of The Exorcist. On occasion, black comedy can be a form capable of being both amusing and disconcerting at the same time, but in Mug the comic aspects clash with those instincts in the viewer that recognise Jacek's situation as a pitiable one.


Polish title: Twarz.




Cast: Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Malgorzata Gorol, Roman Gancarczyk, Robert Talarczyk, Anna Tomaszewska, Dariusz Chojnacki, Martyna Krzysztofik, Iwona Bielska.


Dir Malgorzata Szumowska, Pro Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert and Jacek Drosio, Screenplay Michal Englert and Malgorzata Szumowska, Ph Michal Englert, Pro Des Marek Zawierucha, Ed Jacek Drosio, Music Adam Walicki, Costumes Julia Jarza-Brataniec and Katarzyna Lewinska


Nowhere/DI Factory/Dreamsound Studio/Kino Swiat-Bulldog Film Distribution.
91 mins. Poland. 2017. Rel: 7 December 2018. Cert. 15.