The history of immigrants equals to the history of humankind. It has always been and will be part of the civilization of the world: Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Trojans’ migration into modern-day Italy, the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, the Norman conquest of England, peoples of all continents landing on America, and many others still counting to this date. It is innately natural for man to move to a place for different reasons, whether they result from cohesion, or volition, or a little bit of both. Jersy Skolimowski’s “Moonlighting” (1982), a British film about a polish electrician named Nowak leading a team working illegally in Lonon, focuses on his daily moments of existential vertigo between the winds of the world and provisional needs of livelihood.
Nowak is an intelligent laborer who accepts the offer from a Polish government official to renovate his house in London with lucrative promise, plus a taste of glamourous capitalism. Yet at the first taste of cold London and cold Londoner that makes his presence miserably pathetic and casually ignorable, Nowak decides to survive in a game of hide-and-seek as best as he can. The work is his only painkiller that rids anxiety and worries off his chest, but the effect is only temporary and minimal. As Rome is a great city when you have money, so is London, and Nowak and his team live their provisional days in hiding and stalking under the suspicion of their not-so-gentlemanly and kindly English neighbors. They regard the Polish workers as no more different than poor foreigners unsuitable for their daily English landscapes. Nowak chooses to be a Hector of his own with his crew of non-speaking polish in a vertigo of existential quandy.
Setting in the early 1980s when Poland was going through her first labor pain of democracy with Lech Wałęsa leading Solidarity Movement, the film’s realistic portrayal of illegal workers’ dailiness is visually palatable. The narrative of Nowak transcends to a ballad of Man anxiously adhering to a sense of purpose that gives him a reason to live in a harsh land surrounded by strangers who don’t like them. It’s a film about how changes in the world affect an individual’s daily life based on a symbolic interactionist theory. The present and future of Nowak and his team cannot escape from the winds of changes crossing their faces, which change the compass of the wheel of fortune.
The film is a hidden gem, starring the veteran English actor Jeremy Irons, whose excellent performance of Nowak deserves special recognition from the Polish audience. Irons is so convincingly Polish in appearance, manners, and speech that the non-speaking performance of the other Polish actors as his team of laborers serves to make his presence more outstandingly Polish. Also, the director being Polish himself contributes to the genuineness of the story’s narrative, which guards against patronizingly officious outsider’s perspectives of the people he wants to tell about because it is also his story. For these reasons, Moonlighting is a bracing film that makes you think whether existentialism in which experience proceeds essence is right.