Botoks (2017) | Directed by Patryk Vega
Written by Patryk Vega | Starring Olga Boladz, Agnieszka Dygant, Kasia Warnke
With apologies to The Sound of Music, how do you solve a problem like Botoks? A Polish medical drama that claims to be “a record of the authentic history of strong, determined and expressive physicians who struggle with life’s decisions and problems,” it fails to move, amuse, or entertain, and the only feeling it elicits is disgust. And yet the performances are strong despite the awful script, and it’s produced like it should be a quality piece of cinema. So the movie’s a conundrum.
Early titles tell the viewer that the film was inspired by actual events, but fifteen minutes in, you realize that these “actual events” are extremely unlikely to have ever happened, and the inspiration must have come from writer/director Patryk Vega’s desire to put ludicrous medical urban legends on film to expose perceived shortcomings in Poland’s system of care. I have no personal experience with Polish medicine outside of jokes that would elicit multiple HR complaints at the offices of Attack from Planet B, so I can’t speak with 100% certainty to these vignettes’ lack of authenticity. And yet here’s a scene from the film:
Massive, bearded Darek shuffles into his horrible, trashy apartment to find his ancient father and frumpy sister Daniela sitting at the kitchen table, looking miserable.
Father: “Son, your mother has kicked the fucking bucket.”
Darek: “Holy shit, daddy. We’ll be drinking tonight.”
They drink large amounts of alcohol, and then the father runs out into the street and gets hit by a car and dies. Darek and Daniela are so moved by their father’s horrible demise that they become EMTs. During their career, they do things like drink in the ambulance on the way to patients; spew hangover vomit on sick babies in the crib; and deal with cases like a woman who, during intimate relations with a dog, involuntarily clamps down on the canine’s member with her female parts, and needs medical attention to release him (the scene gets even worse, but I can’t give everything away).
So…so yeah. Inspired by actual events. Okay.
Botoks is unafraid to address controversial subjects like abortion, though it does so in a way that might charitably be described as clumsy. For example, an OB-GYN doctor manipulates the system to allow a woman to abort her 22-week-old baby, and the wriggling, mewling child, having survived the procedure, is placed on a metal tray in an empty room to die. This is considered Standard Operating Procedure, apparently. Later in the movie, when the doctor herself gets pregnant, she has a change of heart and refuses to perform any more abortions. She then gets fired by her amoral male boss.
The clumsy, shrill feminist message running throughout the film is undercut by the plot. A female urologist’s husband tells her that he wants a divorce because he finds her vagina hideous to look at. He even uses the term “beef curtains.” (I don’t know if that’s an exact translation; all I can do is read the subtitles.) Later that day, the understandably unsettled doctor with the unappealing genitals insists that a male patient provide a semen sample by masturbating in front of her. After she gets fired for this piece of questionable professional behavior, she becomes a pioneer in vaginal plastic surgery, and even has her own female parts prettified. Today’s woke feminism would, no doubt, have her shouting her pride in her, ah, “beef curtains” instead of having them adjusted according to sexist male standards of attractiveness.
The movie’s bizarre events and the way they’re handled make it impossible to determine if this is supposed to be a pitch-black, message-laden comedy or a dreadful, message-laden drama. The few characters who aren’t irredeemably evil are hopeless idiots, and the plot, such as it is, only begins to crown a third of the way through the film. Unless you’re in the unenviable position of having to watch the whole movie to give it a fair review, I can’t see a good reason for anyone to push through its entire two-and-a-quarter-hour runtime to reach the end credits.
If Botoks is an accurate representation of the state of Poland’s cinema and medicine, stay away from Polish movie theaters and hospitals, whatever you do. They’ve clearly got plenty of money, but have no idea what to do with it.