Not as blackly comedic as I was expecting, more bleakly tragic, Malgorzata Szumowska’s Mug doesn’t hide its overt criticism of the hypocrisy of religious complacency, as shown by the narrowmindedness of the people of a rural Polish town.
Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) is an amiable, metal-loving guy whose family just want him to cut his hair and act like a grown up. His sister (Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is the only one who seems to value his individuality, advising him to get out of their small town as soon as he can. He doesn’t take her advice though and proposes to wild girl Dagmara (Malgorzata Gozol).
The hub of the town is the church and its ritual and dogma are part of every day family life. Jacek is helping construct the “largest of its kind” and “bigger than the one in Rio de Janeiro” statue of Jesus. While working, he falls into the body of the statue and, barely surviving, becomes the first recipient of a face transplant.
I was expecting more black comedy oddness from this film. The first half hour seem to be heading this way, with sparse and quirky shots of daggy and dated small town life punctuated by Jacek’s 80s metal optimism. The slow-motion horse ride seemed tongue in cheek and indicative of a wry humour. The result of the transplant is a deliberately slow reveal and I was waiting for a comedic punchline but the film suddenly turns down a different road. It becomes an all too real depiction of the marginalisation of those who are different.
The face, after all, symbolises how others identify who we are and so Jacek, damaged and disfigured, becomes a stranger to those who professed to love him. The narrowmindedness and judgement of the town is unambiguously blamed on the church and its teachings. The priest and the congregation mouth the tenets of Jesus without demonstrating them. There is a certain lack of subtlety in how this is signalled; from the giant statue that is being funded by the town, and the doubtful morals of the priest, to Jacek’s nickname before the accident being Jesus. Heavy handed but it’s hard not to feel for Jacek and understand how fragile our comfortable lives are.
The film makes use of a distracting technique of obscuring the focus of parts of the frame, like a manic application of an Instagram tilt-shift filter. It’s not always there but when it is it can’t help but be noticed. It seems like an unnecessary artifice and I couldn’t see how it contributed to the telling of the story.
Overall, I didn’t mind the film but I would’ve liked to see it told by more daring filmmaker.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.