Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. United Kingdom, 2008. Semtex Films, HSI Films. Screenplay by Madonna, Dan Cadan.Cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones. Produced by Nicola Doring. Production Design by Gideon Ponte. Costume Design by B. Akerlund.
Life, according to Madonna, is a combination of opposite truths; there can be no light without darkness, there can be no filth without wisdom, and vice versa in both cases. She attempts a demonstration with this smarmy little film, her directorial debut, but comes up with nothing resembling what she’s aiming for. Originally a short film that she claims grew of its own volition, the film shows its origins in its small arcs and spontaneous moments that feel completely pointless in the feature format. The story centres around three flatmates in London, two women and one man. Eugene Hutz (of the musical group Gogol Bordello, which appears as itself here) plays an aspiring musician who indulges men’s sadomasochistic fantasies for money; one of his roommates supplements her aspirations to become a dancer by stripping; the other steals drugs from the pharmacy where she works to take to Africa with her to save childrens’ lives. Nothing really happens beyond that, the characters do not grow or learn anything, leaving a stale film that has a few charming moments but never actually accomplishes anything. Madonna shows technical skill as a director, all steady pace and fluid editing plus some lovely photography, but her obvious attempt to ape the style of Godard’s early work or Paul Morrissey’s grungy 70s films is misaligned with her story and its themes. Godard and Morrissey were flipping the bird at the mainstream establishment, their films were presented in the spirit of rebellion and anarchy; here Madonna is giving us hard images with soft feelings behind them that come off weak in their attempt to be original. It’s a shame that the woman whose music videos once had mouthy television personalities debating her right to breathe free air couldn’t come up with something that was at least a little more provocative. In the end it’s a lot like the pop goddess icon herself: highly enjoyable when attempting to be fun and fresh, cliched and calculated when trying to be poignant and meaningful.