GFF 2021: My Wonderful Wanda Review
East and West Europe clash in Bettina Oberli’s sly satire My Wonderful Wanda which is included in Glasgow Film Festival’s stellar line-up, and given special mention in the Nora Ephron Award category at Tribeca.
Wanda (Agnieszka Grochowska) arrives in Switzerland by coach from Poland – and does so at the start of each chapter of the film’s structure – clutching as much of her life as she can pack into two pieces of luggage. The most important parts, her two sons, are left behind and cared for by her parents while she earns a wage. She is employed by the Wegmeister-Gloor family and cares for patriarch Josef (André Jung) who has been left debilitated by a stroke.
His wife Elsa (Marthe Heller) and adult children Sophie (Birgit Minichmayr) and Gregi (Jacob Matschenz) unwilling to lift him, place him on the commode chair or shower him, their lives either too full (or is that too empty?) to show much care. Wanda does it all. Even when Manuela goes back to Portugal, Wanda is asked to take on extra cooking and cleaning. The Wegmeister-Gloors are far from poor with their stunning lakeside home that it makes the fact that she must barter for her wages all the more galling to watch.
Josef starts paying her for sex as another way to supplement her income. Their business transaction satisfying both as he gets his physical needs met and she is able to send more cash home. Almost predictably, she is then accused of stealing the money and her passport threatened with confiscation. Make no mistake, these are not horrible people but you will have to wait until the final few moments as to whether any of them are redeemable.
When Wanda falls pregnant by the ‘infertile’ Josef that’s when the fun really starts as panic and horror sets in amid the realisation that this may cost the family both in monetary terms and, where it really hurts, their reputation. There’s an element of schadenfreude as one watches white privilege implode in a drunken haze with Nancy Sinatra, paperwork detailing protection of assets and a taxidermy funeral, while Wanda remains the taciturn and rational one. Choices are made but not by her – the poor tend not to have those – and the youngest Wegmeister-Gloor, Gregi, finally takes his creepy bird noises with him and flies the nest.
Oberli’s film is nuanced and beautifully shot – the family as microcosm - with its greens and blues symbolising all that is in nature, the façade beneath the picturesque, as well as the cash and the bloodline. Its tone is perfectly measured as it deftly comments on class, the immigrant experience, motherhood, family dynamics (and the multitudes of human neuroses it brings with it) and legacy, however, it does so with a sense of self-awareness and humour. The inclusion of the cow - as cast member and metaphor - is genius and adds ever more light relief.
My Wonderful Wanda’s strength lies in its direction, screenplay, biting satire and ensemble cast with standout performances from Grochowska and Heller. Perhaps, we are all just prisoners of circumstance whether rich or poor.
The film screens at Glasgow Film Festival from 26 February - 1 March