A flight attendantís bilingual announcements fill the disorientating first close-up, customs checking is a tableau vivant under flickering light -- the airport as No Manís Land, portal into the alien landscape of London. The four Polish tourists are actually illegal laborers, in town to renovate the cheapskate bossí dilapidated house; the foreman (Jeremy Irons) is the only one who speaks English, which puts him in charge of budget, provisions, and nosy neighbors. Work is rough, the air outside is late-December dismal; a phone booth provides the sole link home, Irons marvels at the technology with wry paranoia ("If our conversation was taped, it must be a good recording"). He learns of the military takeover and, in order to keep the project marching along, hides the news from his comrades, shielding them from grainy TV images of tanks in Warsaw, tearing up letters, and ripping tell-tale Solidarity posters. In Jerzy Skolimowskiís sad-angry-sardonic comedy, you donít have to go to Poland for the Martial Law experience. Dislocation is total -- the workers have their voices taken away in exchange for enough cash to buy a new wristwatch, though the ultimate outsider is Ironsí foreman, denied their proletarian camaraderie while adrift in the British mist ("I can speak their language... But I donít know what they really mean"). The metaphor, later picked up by Spielberg in The Terminal, is enriched stunningly by Skolimowskiís humorous detailing: A security camera bleeps over a supermarket floor like a porcupine satellite, characters vent their frustrations by taking pick-axes to walls but the house fights back with faulty wires and exploding pipes. By the time Christmas has come and gone, Irons has become censor, shoplifter, imagined cuckold, and oppressor of his own class, all with perplexed pagliacci gravity. It builds to a confession in the void, and an act of revolt in limbo. "So much for daydreams." A brisk venture, a swift response to events and settings, and more valuable than all the sprawl of Man of Marble/Iron. With Eugene Lipinski, Jiri Stanislav, Eugeniusz Haczkiewicz, Denis Holmes, and Jenny Seagrove.
--- Fernando F. Croce