MIFF Review: Mug

Writer/Director Małgorzata Szumowska picked up the Silver Grand Jury Prize for this satirical comedy set in a small Polish Town with a monolithic structure to Jesus being built whilst its designer receives a new face. I have no idea why as the result is an unfinished, occasionally funny, and lazily made affair that never resolves the questions it poses. Seemingly, Mug has an agreement with Metallica to use samples from Hardwired.. To Self Destruct and Death Magnetic and maybe that’s where the bulk of the budget went?

It’s not all dire, though, there are some charming and witty elements to Mug, it’s just a pity that a story that has such opportunities doesn’t have the ambition it needs to deliver it. That quintessential Polish quirk is alive and well here, it’s acerbic view of religion, it’s goofy Eastern sensibilities, it’s incisive commentary on the family unit. We’ve been here before and, whilst Mug guns to add comical zest, it doesn’t add anything new to the argument.

When Jacek, an unashamed Metallica fan with goofish charm and an intolerable family, is horrifically disfigured in an industrial accident during the construction of a giant statue of Jesus, he becomes the recipient of a world first brand new facial reconstruction.The surgery leaves him unintelligible when speaking, and a battered version of his former self.

When he returns home, he’s new freakish looks sees his bride to be run for the hills, his family treat him like differently, and the local church and media like a cash cow. But all Jacek wants is his girl and old life back..

Instead of drilling into a path of adversity and redemption, Szumowska chooses to use the framework of this 91 minute feature to nip at the heels of organised religion where a majority of the time is spent listening to ridiculously droll hymns sung and frequent digs at the priests and diocese. I’m no fan of religion myself, but once is enough, make your point and move on.

Frustratingly, many set ups in drama occur earlier on that are either never fully resolved or referenced again. Notions around familial inheritance, dysfunctional relationships, social commentary, political realities, and the bizarre behaviour of modern capitalism are hinted at but never fully explored. It’s a pity – it could’ve had so much fun with them (the opening scene at a shopping centre is truly inspired)

The result is a bored and lugging Jacek who meanders around the film, occasionally blasting Metallica, never resolving his woes. A totally cop out (and abrupt) ending only further cements how undercooked the film is.

Add to that the lazy and often poorly photographed cinematography that sees much of the frame out of focus except for the central person in the shot. It’s discomforting to watch and makes Mug uglier than it needs to be.

With moments of genuinely funny moments too few and far between, Mug doesn’t hold up to the promise of satirical aims. Painful when it should be poignant, boring when it should be boisterous, this one’s a hard pass from me.

★1/2

MUG screens at MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018