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  Moonlighting Afraid In The Building Trade
Year: 1982
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Stars: Jeremy Irons, Eugene Lipinski, Jirí Stanislav, Eugeniusz Haczkiewicz, Edward Arthur, Denis Holmes, Renu Setna, David Calder, Judy Gridley, Claire Toeman, Catherine Harding, Jill Johnson, David Squire, Michael Sarne, Jenny Seagrove, Ian McCulloch
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Polish electrician Nowak (Jeremy Irons) has been recruited by his boss to travel to London and carry out a job for him. It is December 1981, and he and the three men he takes with him, all builders, are all able to be manipulated so as not to ask too many questions as long as they are fed and watered, but really his main impetus is to raise far more cash abroad than he would in Warsaw. The place they are renovating is his boss's getaway where he wants to escort his mistress, and though Nowak and company make it through customs, they will find problems in England working illegally, mostly because they have to be under the radar, but also because of what happens back home...

Moonlighting, not to be confused with the romantic comedy detective series from three years afterwards, was a wonder of putting your nose to the grindstone in itself, for its writer and director Jerzy Skolimowski conceived of the project and got it shot and edited in the same time frame as his main character was supposed to get that house finished. He did this for two reasons: one, because the production used his own house as its main set (and the three actual Polish builders were... actual Polish builders working on it), and two, because he was getting news from back home where the political situation was growing ever more perilous and he wanted to capitalise on the crisis.

Perhaps "capitalise" is the wrong word, but he did want to make his own statement on the rise of Lech Walesa's Solidarity union and the efforts of the Communist authorities to clamp down on them. to do so, he made the house a microcosm of the politics in Poland, as Nowak’s worker status is corrupted and he turns into the oppressor as he tries his best to ensure the status quo is maintained even though the society is crumbling around his ears. The film portrayed this in an intriguing fashion: the London world outside the house is a curious, alien landscape, that quality emphasised by Hans Zimmer's electronic effects on the soundtrack, leading Nowak to preserve his origin inside.

Therefore the house, partly by necessity, partly thanks to a curious homesickness Nowak is suffering (he pines for his girlfriend, of which we only see a photograph, played by Jenny Seagrove - though she does become slightly animated in a fantasy sequence), but don't go thinking this was a quirky little comedy with a spot of amusing culture clashes, for the place quickly becomes akin to a nightmare for the electrician, especially when a military coup is imposed in Poland. He must keep this news from the three workers, all the better to make certain they finish the job and get him paid (the exchange rate is extremely favourable for the Poles, despite them working for peanuts compared to British builders), since if they did find out they would bail on him and hastily return to Eastern Europe.

It's made clear the workers, who speak no English, unlike Nowak who can get by with the locals, are not the sharpest tools in the shed, a narrative conceit the film just about gets away with as the sole connection to home is the telephone box only he among them is allowed to use. And even then, the boss stops calling when the coup starts to grip, leaving Nowak unsure whether they will be able to return at all. The rising panic in the protagonist is exacerbated by his increasing illegality to scrape by, from scamming shops to shoplifting to outright stealing stuff off the street, yet the locals are behaving this way as well, so in a perverse manner he is merely fitting in as the climate grows ever more dog eat dog. Yet we can feel this corrupting Nowak's soul as the conclusion the leads up to is no conclusion at all - the crisis was still going on when the shoot finished, which explains that. As the tension grows, the uncertainty is what makes you uneasy, leaving a strong impression of those days from this tiny snapshot. Music by Stanley Myers.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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