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Irina Palm

How far would you go to save the life of someone you love? Marianne Faithfull stars as an aging English widow who proves her dedication by going above and beyond the call of grandmotherly duty in this offbeat take on a familiar theme. Quiet, unassuming Northampton grandmother Maggie (Faithfull) has done just about all she can for her grandson, Olly (Corey Burke), who's dying of some unspecified illness in a London hospital. She's emptied her bank account and even sold her home in Yardley Hastings, but it's still not enough to cover Olly's ongoing treatment, and without income or collateral no bank will float her a loan. As Olly's condition becomes critical, the doctor tells his parents -- Maggie's son, Tom (Kevin Bishop), and his wife, Sarah (Siobhan Hewlett), a cold-fish who resents Maggie -- about a new treatment that could save the child's life. But it would have to be done at a hospital in Melbourne, and while the procedure would be pro bono, they'd have to cover the considerable travel costs themselves. Tom and Sarah are flat broke, so Maggie sees no option but to look for work. She quickly discovers that there's little demand for women of a certain age with no real work experience. Desperate, she walks into Sexy World, a Soho nightclub with a "Hostess Wanted" sign in its window, naively unaware that "hostess" is a sex-worker euphemism for "prostitute." The club's owner, Miki (UNDERGROUND's Miki Manojlovic), soon sets Maggie straight. But surprisingly, he doesn't show her the door. Instead, he examines her hands and offers her a job working in one of Sexy World's newest features: A booth divided by a partition through which an aroused client can be manually manipulated by the worker on the other side. Miki assigns Luisa (Dorka Gryllus), aka "Suzie Lush," to show Maggie the ropes: Watch your speed, use a firmer grip with circumcised and so on. Maggie is initially repulsed, but she shuts her eyes and thinks of Olly, soon discovering that she has something of a knack for the business. Miki tells her she'd make more money if she had a sexy stage name; he dubs her "Irina Palm" and, despite the onset of "penis elbow," she begins to attract a following. Hidden away in her booth in a flowered smock and comfy slippers, looking more like a manicurist than a typical sex worker and armed with a thermos of tea and a box of Kleenex, Irina Palm becomes a star. Meanwhile, her friends and family begin to wonder what's she's been getting up to, and where all that money is coming from. "He's dying, I'm wanking, it's a mess," Maggie tells Miki, and that pretty much sums up the spin Brussels-based filmmaker Sam Garbaski (THE RASHEVSKI TANGO) puts on one of melodrama's most venerable clichés. And that spin lends an interesting perspective to the question, "what kind of people work in the sex trade?" Garbanski's answer -- ordinary ones, by and large, with ordinary needs and dreams. And Faithfull is marvelous: Once notorious for her own escapades (the drugs, the Stones, the fur rug, that Mars bar), this great-great-niece of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch is no shrinking violet, but she's perfect as a plump, frumpy widow with a huge heart and a hidden talent no one would ever suspect.