Exclusive review: Madonna's Filth and Wisdom
Today's world premiere was hailed as the hottest ticket in town, but many people at the Berlin Film Festival were expecting Madonna's directorial debut to fail spectacularly. Yet her new career got off to a surprisingly auspicious start without exactly convincing anyone that she should give up her old job.
Filth and Wisdom, a sprawling comedy, is a celebration of London's ethnic stew, and stars Eugene Hutz as a Ukrainian gypsy with an intensely annoying habit of looking the camera in the eye and spouting gobbets of wisdom that have as much relevance to real life as Chinese fortune cookies. Hutz's hero, Andriy, shares a dilapidated house with a collection of similarly unlikely characters. Vicky McClure's Juliette works in a chemist shop and steals medicine for African orphans. Holly Weston is a ballerina (also named Holly) and a pole dancer at Beechman's Exotic Gentleman's Club. Richard E. Grant is Flynn, a blind professor with a shock of grey hair and rooms crammed with unread books.
Andriy, who dresses up as a neo-Nazi and spanks men for a living, is also the narrator on Madonna's picaresque tour around the hopes and dreams of the cast. "Without filth there cannot be wisdom," muses Andriy, tweaking his alarming moustache. "They are two sides of the same coin." Madonna puts a little too much faith in her writing powers (she earns a co-credit for the script). Most of the filth is actually frothy, life-affirming comedy. The spectacle of Andriy riding a half-naked man around his living-room gives a whole new meaning to the words "horseplay".
What saves the film is its sheer exuberance, and, of course, the music. Andriy fronts a terrific, throbbing gypsy band (Gogol Bordello) when he's not punishing grown-up school boys for not doing their homework, and Weston's pole dancer gives Madonna plenty of tongue-in-cheek opportunities to plug some of her favourite songs. Inder Manocha's weary Indian chemist has arguably the best moments of comedy. When he's not ogling his shapely assistant (the beautiful and pure McClure), he is shouted at by his Indian wife.
That said, there is some clunkingly awful acting and a string of scenes that are so stagey they would fall over if they weren't propped up by the cinema screen. The sight of Grant flinging books off shelves, and then flinging himself onto his carpet weeping tears of frustration, is a collector's item, and one of the most inadvertently humorous scenes witnessed in Berlin for many a year.
Yet despite its many shortcomings and an ending so mushy and neat it would embarrass Richard Curtis, Madonna has done herself proud. Her film has an artistic ambition that has simply bypassed her husband, the film director Guy Ritchie. She captures that wonderfully accidental nature of luck when people's lives intersect for a whole swathe of unlikely but cherishable reasons. Altmanesque would be stretching the compliment too far, but "Filth and Wisdom" shows Madonna has real potential as a film director.
SOURCE: TIMES ONLINE UK
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