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Filth and Wisdom (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Filth and Wisdom

Filth and Wisdom


Starring Eugene Hutz, Holly Weston, Vicky McClure, Richard E. Grant, Inder Manocha, Elliot Levey, Francesca Kingdon, Ade and Gogol Bordello.

Screenplay by Madonna and Dan Cadan.

Directed by Madonna.

Distributed by IFC Films.  84 minutes.  Rated R.

For a lover of good cinema, there can be few terms more potentially horrifying than this one: “A film by Madonna.”

After all, despite the fact that she is undeniably a musical icon, Madonna’s motion picture career has essentially been one terrific-if-highly-autobiographical role in one very good movie (Desperately Seeking Susan) followed by 23 years of scary-awful films and some of the worst acting in history, usually committed by the singing star-turned-leading lady.

Still, you have to give Madonna credit for stick-to-it-ness.  If only she were the only one who had to watch her exercises in self-indulgence.

Filth and Wisdom, the directing debut of the former material girl, has at least one big thing in its favor when compared to all of Madonna’s previous excursions onto celluloid – the fact that Madonna herself does not act in the movie.

Unfortunately, the film is still saddled with Madonna as a co-screenwriter.

Filth and Wisdom is the story of three attractive bohemian 20-somethings living in London who prattle on endlessly about sex and philosophy while chasing their dreams.

The star of her film, ironically, is another singer – though one whose musical standing is on an entirely different recognition level – Eugene Hutz, leader of the gypsy-punk cult-fave Gogol Bordello.  Hutz has also successfully dipped a toe into acting with a terrific performance in the 2005 drama Everything is Illuminated – which ironically was also directed by an actor-turned-novice director, Liev Schreiber. (For the record, Schreiber did a better job of harnessing Hutz’s oddball charm, which Madonna allows to go a little hogwild.)

Hutz plays AK – a slight variation on his Illuminated character and on himself – the character leads a struggling gypsy-punk band called Gogol Bordello.  AK is an eccentric East European immigrant who is trying to become a musical star (he literally stops people on the street, opens their CD players and sticks his demo in).  While he waits for his ship to come in he makes a living as a gopher for a morose blind poet (Madonna’s friend Richard E. Grant, obviously doing a big favor) and working as a gay master to humiliate (but not have sex with) other men.

AK lives with two beautiful and equally poor young women.  He is obviously in love with Holly – a slightly uptight and innocent struggling wannabe ballerina who AK finally talks into using her dancing skills as a stripper.  Juliet is a smart (dig the Eurotrash short hairdo!) and sensitive pharmacist’s assistant who wants to help feed starving Africans, but instead steals drugs from her smitten, married boss.

Not much happens from there on, other than loads of navel-gazing and our heroes all somehow, almost by chance, stumble upon some kind of happiness.

The most interesting or intriguing moments here are a few short musical performances by Gogol Bordello, which capture the lowbrow sleazy energy and fun that the rest of the film can’t quite get to.

The truth of the matter is Filth and Wisdom is not overly filthy (for a movie that talks about sex on a near-constant basis, it is actually rather chaste), nor is it particularly wise.  It’s also not good – though it is not quite as horrible as some of the films Madonna has been involved with in the past.  It turns out that Madonna is a better director than she is an actress – maybe all those years married to Guy Richie rubbed off a little.  Still, she would be better off devoting her time to resurrecting her steadily diminishing musical career and leaving the movies to the professionals.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2008  All rights reserved.  Posted: December 5, 2008.

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