Although one can surmise the name of the lead character (Grazyna Misiorowska) in “Maryoaround,” it takes some time for her ever to be bothered to speak it aloud, staying largely anonymous as she works in a minimart in Poland. She’s led a quiet life, devoting herself to the lord so thoroughly that she’s prone to carrying a Virgin Mary in her purse and longingly looks at the nuns that walk across the courtyard of her apartment building, though director Daria Woszek and co-writers Sylwester Piechura and Aleksandra Swierk are careful not to ever go into why she didn’t ever join the ministry herself, reaching 50 without incident as a trip to the doctor reveals that she’s never needed contraceptives nor will she ever now that she’s hit menopause.
Still, life is only beginning for Mary when her physician recommends some light hormone therapy drugs to ease her into a new phase of womanhood, and similar to another recent Polish breakout, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s lavish musical “The Lure,” that dabbled in the fantastical to express the frenzy of coming of age, “Marygoaround” inventively summons the fear and excitement of her increasing sexual consciousness. Filled with bold colors and a murderously deadpan sense of humor, the dark comedy sees Mary start to behave in ways that she only has read about in the trashy romance novels that have been brought home by her niece Helena (Helena Sujecka), who stops by for her birthday and seems to never leave thereafter.
“You’ve always impressed me with this composure of yours,” says Helena, who typically wakes up hungover after partying the night away and can’t possibly imagine her aunt indulging in the same behavior. Yet she can’t help but notice that the drugs that Mary has begun taking has some side effects (perhaps emanating from the unpronounceable ingredients she sums up as “horse piss”) and after Mary quite literally closes the door on Jesus, not wanting to be spied upon by the portrait in the hallway of her flat as she gets frisky in her bubble bath, all bets seem to be off.
Woszek playfully finds all sorts of amusing expressions of this sexual awakening, with the wonderfully stone-faced Misiorowska breaking character to gorge on caviar for the first time as if she’s having an orgasm to watching the impossible gyrations of dancers clowning in “Rize” and appearing as if the contortions going on in her mind are even more impressive. Whether Mary will ever find the confidence to act on her desire to bed her boss, a western-wear aficionado who appears to be as lonely in the archetypal life he adopted as she is in hers, becomes the film’s slender narrative thread, but the thrills to be found her self-discovery are more than enough, particularly when the film fully explores the idea of chaos commencing when she allows a man to enter her home. All of it is a bit cheeky, as it should be, but there’s always something real behind it, whether it’s Mary’s growing awareness of her power or the considerable craft of Woszek, production designer Alicja Kazimierczak and cinematographer Michal Pukowiec, who make the world come alive with evocative lighting and sets as much for an audience as it does for Mary.
“Marygoaround” will screen once more at Fantasia Fest on August 31st at 5:30 pm EST, available digitally to Canadian audiences.