Among the types of people underrepresented in film, surely women over 50 would rate in the top 10. When they do emerge, such characters tend to serve as guides, champions, or foes to the main character. Whether spouting sage wisdom, life advice, or bitterness for past mistakes, they are relegated to supporting roles and feel happy to fade into the background. They are mothers, wives, teachers, or mentors, but never leading ladies and certainly not objects of desire. In Marygoround, director Daria Woszek interrupts the norm to bring us the story of Maria, a woman in menopause, still a virgin, who dares to be the star of her own story, reaping both triumph and tribulation.
Maria (Grazyna Misiorowska) leads a simple, uneventful life. She lives alone and works the counter at a local grocer. A visit to the gynecologist reveals that on her 50th birthday, menopause is beginning and her opportunity to mother a child is gone. To quell the symptoms, she begins hormone therapy with patches, but her failure to follow the directions sets her mind, body, and sexual libido out of whack, setting Maria’s carefully ordered world alight with passion and unmet desires. Her body’s transformation coincides with the arrival of her adult niece, Helena (Helen Sujecka; Little Crushes), seeking temporary shelter at Maria’s one-bedroom flat, which only adds to the estrogen-fueled chaos.
The story wastes no time revealing Maria’s backstory or reasoning for her virginal status; it’s just the way her life panned out. Maria doesn’t take the role of victim; instead, she takes stock of her situation and makes choices that feel right to her. Far from being simply the proverbial old maid or mother hen, Maria dares to dabble in her unmet potential as a sexual siren, allowing space for her fantasies to run wild. It’s Maria that gets to decide if and when she allows a man into that space, and the way she exercises agency during this life stage, which many view with dread, endears her to viewers, even if some of the choices she makes reveal a form of self-sabotage.
Misiorowska gives a nuanced performance as Maria, painting her as a fully fleshed-out woman. She’s a conscientious employee and does her work humbly and without complaint, even though her eyes often reveal her inner thoughts. At home, she has her independent space, but her niece’s arrival shows off her tender side which makes room for others in her care. As Maria’s sexual libido amps up, Misiorowska does impressive physical acting. Whereas the default Maria walked around with a slumped posture and downcast eyes, Maria the siren knows how to strut and writhe around on her bedspread like she’s in a music video. During the movie, she expresses rage, agony, sadness, shock, and self-satisfaction. The combination of her blue eyes and red hair cut a striking image.
Although Maria may fall far from the stereotypical saintly image her name and life choices might imply, she’s still the moral center of this story. Maria takes charge of her life and allows others, like her irresponsible niece, to make their life choices without judgment. In contrast, the rest of the characters we meet fail to impress. The female characters, like Maria’s niece Helena and the women at the marketplace, gossip, treat other women like competition, and complain about the men in their lives. They view Maria with jealousy and suspicion because she doesn’t have to deal with such matters.
While the two male characters we meet first appear more polite, this good behavior has conditions. They show Maria a level of chivalry and deference at first, but once the possibility of sex comes into the picture, the ruse is up, and if expectations go unmet, these same well-behaved men resort to temper tantrums or animalistic behavior. The fragility of the male ego is on full display.
Cinematographer Michal Pukowiec creates the perfect atmosphere to spin Maria’s journey. With few exceptions, Maria’s world consists of the market where she works, the apartment where she lives, and the city streets she traverses between the two. Her workplace is filled with retro-inspired pops of color, and a cast of quirky co-workers and clientele. Their exaggerated personalities contrast sharply with Maria’s quiet wallflower affect, highlighting her isolation from the larger world. Color plays a big part inside her home life, as well, with blue and green being the dominant hues. Maria owns a substantial collection of Virgin Mary statues, one of which we witness her pilfer from a street-side memorial, and the blue lighting and palette of cold colors give the home a peaceful and heavenly feel. When we first see her home, it resembles a place of worship and adds to our view of Maria as a virginal woman of poise, faith, and heavenly virtues.
As Maria’s body and mind begin to transform, the colors change. In moments where she indulges in fantasies and sensual pleasures, pink and red tones interrupt the sacred blueness of Maria’s space, turning up the heat visually. During one such moment, Maria sits on her orange-patterned couch, eating a jar full of marmalade-colored goop, her red hair aflame. Viewers experience Maria’s journey through a variety of such visual feasts.
Sound designer Michal Fojcik likewise does excellent work together with composer Marcin Macuk in creating the appropriate soundtrack for our saint Maria’s transformation. Some of the music sounds like a cathedral choir. Other times, calliope music appropriate for a circus accompanies Maria’s interactions with the world, perhaps hinting at the wild ride signified by the title of the movie. In addition to the music choices, other sounds, like the noise the freezer makes the many times Maria opens it to cool off her overheated body, serve to heighten the sensory experience she is feeling.
In a world where women often feel overlooked or relegated to certain roles in society, the story of Maria feels fresh and needed. Women over 50 need to see themselves represented on screen, and Marygoround does this in a positive way, showing that life after middle-age doesn’t have to be boring or devoid of passion. Maria takes charge of her story and her sexuality in an unforgettable way.
Currently screening during the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.
For more information, visit the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival website for Marygoround (Maryjki).
Final Score: 4 out of 5.