Alienation and isolation feed a disturbing duality in Jerzy Skolimowski’s terrific Moonlighting, the story of four Polish immigrants sent cheaply to London to remodel a politician’s new flat. The singularly contained story transmits via Nowak (Jeremy Irons), the group’s leader and only English speaking member who must manipulate and impress his blue-collar compatriots to keep working despite Western influences and a military coup back home. To get the arduous month long job in on time Nowak limits information, power, and ultimately emotional connection for his workers, creating a telling microcosm of the Eastern bloc in the small, unstable iconography of their London setting.
Critiques and contradictions of capitalistic culture abound, forcing Nowak into dark corners of his subconscious wrecked by guilt, doubt, and weakness. Watching the men’s perception of Nowak slowly change is striking, snaking from casual respect, to indifference, then finally to bursting anger. The final shot in the film paints a realization of what Nowak has feared the entire film – the explosion of pent up angst and frustration. And in his lyrical voice over narration, Nowak seems relieved to give up control of the reigns, as if the burden of power and manipulation has pushed him into an emotional black hole. This culminates in a surreal vision of his Polish girlfriend whispering from the burn-out display of their defunct color television.
These thematic and emotional concerns provide ample subtext to fledgling characters distanced from their physical home, while also defining the ideological complexity of Skolimowski’s main concern – dissecting the double-edged relationship between Western capitalism and Communism. The lack of dialogue puts an emphasis on Nowak’s impression of the events, a subjective struggle with interior demons and external pressures. This artistic flourish is a Skolimowski staple, a filmmaker willing to plunge his particular style into the hands of fractured lead characters battling multiple social fronts. Moonlighting proves Skolimowski’s ability to find beauty in the breakdown and pain into the refurbish, in terms of both setting and character. Not many directors can achieve such a sublime and diverse dichotomy of tones.