Filth and Wisdom
2008, NR, 84 min. Directed by Madonna. Starring Eugene Hutz, Holly Weston, Vicky McClure, Richard E. Grant, Inder Manocha, Stephen Graham.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 7, 2008
With Filth and Wisdom, the Material Girl has now spliced the title of film writer and director into her list of accomplishments, but the result is, well, immaterial. The film’s story is slight, and its philosophical aims are center stage but without substance. Although Madonna co-wrote the screenplay with Dan Cadan (a Guy Ritchie associate) from a story idea of hers, she was solely responsible for Filth and Wisdom’s editing and direction, and she definitely shows in this debut film an ability to capture small, telling moments and recognize what’s charismatic onscreen. Most notably, that charisma belongs to Hutz, the frontman for the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, whose music is also featured prominently in the film. Hutz plays a Ukrainian immigrant in London named A.K., who supplements his income as a musician by renting himself out as the dominant character in S&M scenarios. A.K. shares a flat with two women, Holly (Weston) and Juliette (McClure), who also sometimes play supporting dominatrix roles in the fantasies. Holly is a starving ballet student, who, on A.K.’s advice, takes a job as an erotic dancer. Juliette works in a pharmacy where she steals bottles of drugs to send to her passion cause: the sick and starving people of Africa. This “mouth to hand” existence, as one character describes it, is Madonna’s idea of the filth that must be endured in order to attain wisdom. A.K. delivers intermittent monologues directly to the camera in which he reads poetry (sometimes the poetry of apartment neighbor Professor Flynn – a blind, sniveling, gay poet played by Grant, in what can only be viewed as the nadir of his career) and opines about such things as the duality of life. This movie’s main contention is that filth and wisdom are opposite sides of the same coin. It even tosses a coin in the air to make sure we grasp this two-bit (and arguably false) concept. However, if selling one’s body is Madonna’s idea of the utter depths to which one can sink, her concept of wisdom is equally shallow. The ploy comes across more as Madonna’s apologia for her provocative book of photo erotica, Sex, and her subsequent turn to the mysticism of the kabbalah. Madonna may believe she’s now operating on a higher plane, but when it comes to the nuances of filmmaking, she’s “like a virgin.”