Madonna's 'Filth And Wisdom': Not Much Of Either

A.K. (Eugene Hutz) in bathroom i i

Bordello philosopher: A.K. (Eugene Hutz of the band Gogol Bordello) fuels his musical ambitions with cash from a sideline in S&M. IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption IFC Films
A.K. (Eugene Hutz) in bathroom

Bordello philosopher: A.K. (Eugene Hutz of the band Gogol Bordello) fuels his musical ambitions with cash from a sideline in S&M.

IFC Films

Filth and Wisdom

  • Director: Madonna
  • Genre: Sex comedy
  • Running Time: 84 minutes

Unrated: Lots of kink, but no actual sex (or full nudity, for that matter)

Holly Weston as Holly i i

Parallel barres: A would-be ballerina by day, Holly (Holly Weston) dances alongside poles by night. IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption IFC Films
Holly Weston as Holly

Parallel barres: A would-be ballerina by day, Holly (Holly Weston) dances alongside poles by night.

IFC Films

Having failed to establish herself as a Hollywood actress, Madonna attacks the movie biz from the opposite direction with her low-budget first feature, Filth and Wisdom. A tale of alt-culture love and toil, it's no disaster — but it offers relatively little of either commodity promised by its title.

Although the movie is set in London, its scenario was probably inspired by Madonna's own days as an aspiring dancer, diva and sex goddess in lower Manhattan. Yet the central role is not that of Holly (Holly Weston), a pretty ballerina who turns to stripping to make some cash.

Instead, the film's main character is A.K., a Ukrainian poet and singer who fronts a London gypsy-punk band called Gogol Bordello. He's played by Eugene Hutz, who in real life is basically the same person, except that he and his band reside in New York.

That approach to character may seem lazy, but the flamboyant Hutz (who also starred in 2005's Everything is Illuminated) is the best thing in the movie. And his director made the right choice when she decided to emphasize Gogol Bordello's music over her own on the soundtrack.

A.K. is the movie's resident philosopher, directly addressing the camera with such insights as, "If you want to go to heaven, you have to go to hell first." It's A.K., of course, who explains that filth and wisdom are "two sides of the same coin."

This maxim is not especially well-illustrated by the film's cursory script, which is credited to Madonna and Dan Cadan. A.K. shares an apartment with, and nurses a crush on, Holly; their other roommate is Juliette (Vicky McClure), who dreams of doing relief work in Africa, and who pilfers drugs from the pharmacy where she works.

Downstairs lives a self-pitying blind poet (Richard E. Grant), who sometimes weeps in highly theatrical frustration and despair. But his verse inspires A.K. to write new songs.

A.K. supports himself by dominating men with a taste for humiliation and whipping. Sometimes when wielding a cane, the Ukrainian has flashbacks to beatings he received from his father. These memories are presented in the style of a music video, which is clumsy, but not as crude as Juliette's conversations with her sister, which reveal the evil their dad did.

It's Juliette's larceny that shows just how unfilthy a tale this is: She steals not because she's an addict, but so she'll have a suitcase full of pharmaceuticals when she finally arrives in Africa.

By the time the movie has healed all its major characters, and incidentally restored two straying husbands to their wives, it's clear that A.K.'s ode to the "duality in everything" was a cheat: on its way to middle-class heaven, Filth and Wisdom merely pretends to be interested in the minor torments of their bohemian hell.

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