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Filth & Wisdom - Madonna debut hits Berlin

Filth And Wisdom

Preview by Jack Foley

THE directorial debut from Madonna proved to be one of the most sought after screenings at this year’s Berlin Film Festival where – according to various reports – some 500 reporters descended upon the preview theatre and subsequent press conference.

Filth And Wisdom stars Eugene Hutz as Andriy Krystiyan (or AK for short), an immigrant who has come to England from the Ukraine to become an international star. When we first meet him, however, he’s attempting to make ends meet by performing role play in women’s clothing for straight married men.

AK shares a flat with two young women named Juliette and Holly – the former dreams of being a kind of Florence Nightingale of the developing world but is currently working behind the counter at the local drug store run by Sardeep, the Indian chemist.

Holly, meanwhile, is a trained ballerina who harbours dreams of dancing with the Royal Ballet. So far, she hasn’t been able to earn a single penny with her dancing, and continues to ‘polish’ her skills as a pole dancer at Beechman’s Exotic Gentleman’s Club.

According to Madonna, the stories of the three protagonists were ones she could easily identify with.

“I relate to their struggle,” she told reporters. “I can remember it clearly when I was starting out. Not that I was ever a pole dancer… [But] I like unconventional. I was raised in the Mid-West and I never really felt like I belonged.”

The singer and occasional actress managed to persuade Berlin to show the film by writing a postcard to festival director Dieter Kosslick, asking him to show her film “if he liked it” – and while she remains humble of her own directorial achievements thus far, she is clearly determined to make a go of things behind the camera and add another string to her impressive bow of artistic achievements.

Unfortunately, the critics were quick to knock her, with the vast majority posting bad reviews – even though most coceded that Filth And Wisdomw wasn’t quite as bad as they’d been anticipating.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote that although it was “ragged, uneven and pot-holed with some dire dialogue and performances”, the film’s “cockeyed optimism and likable leads conspire to bring a smile by the time it’s done”.

While Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian, wrote: “Well, it had to happen. Madonna has been a terrible actor in many, many films and now – fiercely aspirational as ever – she has graduated to being a terrible director. She has made a movie so incredibly bad that Berlin festivalgoers were staggering around yesterday in a state of clinical shock, deathly pale and mewing like maltreated kittens.”

Derek Malcolm, of The Evening Standard, was similarly scathing, stating: “The moral of the tale is that you have to go through hard times (filth) before you reach equilibrium (wisdom). But it is punctuated by so much cod philosophising that you wonder whether the film knows what it is talking about at all.”

But there was some praise, with James Christopher of The Times writing that “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”.

Madonna remains undeterred. She described the Berlin reception to the movie as better than she could have asked for and has already announced plans for a follow-up project – a documentary about Malawi that will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival.