Nowak (Jeremy Irons), a Polish contractor, leads a group of workmen to London so they can provide cheap labor for a government official based there. Nowak has to manage the project and the men as they encounter the temptations of the West and loneliness and separation from their families.
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Skolimowski's Cannes winning script couldn't have been more topical on release. Skolimowski an exile from his home country of Poland found himself in the U.K. as the Solidarity uprising was taking place at home. The script resulting from this was both political agitation and black comedy that excelled as both. Irons as the English speaking Pole hiding the truth from his co-workers in a foreign land is sublime here.
Four nervous men are clearing customs at a Poland airport while the fluorescents above flicker wildly, perfectly synced to Hans Zimmer's sinister electronics. Thus begins Jerzy Skolimowski's ingenious, metaphorical head trip with Jeremy Irons as the tormented Nowak trying to do right in a nightmarish London where capitalist Brits are no better or worse than socialist Poles. Humans as prisoners of their own system.
Skolimowski's cold, calculating directorial style is matched perfectly with Jeremy Irons' maniacally obsessive performance style and the result is a simple home renovation turned into an ultra-stressful nightmare, as harrowing as the life-or-death journey in ESSENTIAL KILLING, as strung-out as the drug-induced psychosis of DEAD RINGERS. 4.4 stars.
The comparison to PickPocket a commenter made below is very apt. I like how Skolimowski can glide effortlessly between the more surreal stuff he did in the 60s and to a more realistic take in this film. Irons' performance is his most subtle and restrained.
I liked it at the time, but I think now that I probably wouldn't have watched it in the first place if the overall selection of movies wasn't so bad in the 80's. I think I just watched every movie from the video store.
The Poles are to (some) Brits as Mexicans are to (some) Americans. I found the theme of the film timeless, as it highlights the eternal plight of immigrants (illegal or not) seeking an improvement in their lives while also confronting the suspicion and xenophobia which keep them in the gray and black economies.
Inspired choice of Jeremy Irons, one of the most 'Continental' British actors of our time.