An Irish woman’s impetuous search in Poland for a former one-night-stand becomes a journey toward self-realization in “Molly’s Way,” the debut feature of Franco-Persian helmer Emily Atef. Auds will be less surprised by the resulting discoveries than Molly herself, and while Atef’s screenplay, co-written with Esther Bernstorff, was hailed at the 2005 Munich Fest, it needs help maintaining believability while eliminating cliches. Winner of the special jury prize in Mar del Plata, pic benefits enormously from lead Mairead McKinley’s grounded perf, but fest play is winding down and unlikely to lead to many commercial dates.
The depressed countryside of Poland is a strange place for a young Irish woman without a lick of Polish, but Molly (McKinley) arrives alone and more than slightly bewildered, in search of a man she slept with back in Ireland a few months earlier. All she knows about Marcin is his first name, the area he’s from, and that he works in a coal mine.
Subsuming her self-doubt under old-fashioned Irish stubbornness, Molly checks in to the only hotel in town, a cross between flop house and brothel run by icy German proprietress Britta (Ute Gerlach). Told that all the coal mines closed down 15 years ago, Molly scours the local black market operations, trying to present a determined face in an increasingly hopeless, at times humiliating, situation.
After weeks on this wild goose chase, she discovers one neighborhood mine still working, and finally tracks down her man Marcin (Jan Wieczorkowski), who’s understandably amazed to see his temporary Irish fling turn up here. Now that she’s found him though, she begins to question whether he was really what she was searching for in the first place.
In certain respects, the pic fits in with the recent flood of stories directed by West European and American directors set in a decidedly unattractive and obstructionist Eastern Europe, but Atef fortunately avoids the condescending tone that infects many others in this group.
Main problem is how Atef balances the voyage of self-discovery with a tendency to formulaic stereotypes: prostitutes Molly shares the hotel with feel too familiar, while certain roles, like an overly excited cop (Robert Gonera), seem to have come out of a different film altogether.
McKinley’s ingratiating, self-deprecating warmth keeps interest focused throughout Molly’s ill-considered search, despite her exasperating naivete. Gerlach’s madam, however, is little more than a caricature of an early Fassbinder character.
The abandoned, overgrown countryside is captured in all its damp grey and brown depression by Patricia Lewandowska’s confident lensing, a vital silent commentary on the hopelessness settling over both Molly and the land itself. This being Poland, Chopin’s Ballade #4 forms a key, though perhaps overused, element of the soundtrack.