In Review

Swan Song review: Udo Kier steals the show in a ‘role of a lifetime’

German actor is on ‘captivating’ form as an ageing hairdresser

“At the age of 77, with a tremendous body of work behind him, German actor Udo Kier may just have found the role of a lifetime,” said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. In this “thoroughly engaging” film, he plays Pat, a retired hairdresser and former drag queen who has little to live for in his Ohio nursing home, until a lawyer turns up one day to inform him that one of his former clients, Rita, has died, leaving instructions that “he and nobody else” must ready her body for her open-casket funeral. 

Pat initially declines the job – even though it comes with a $25,000 fee and he’s “flat broke” – because he and Rita had a “love-hate relationship, and he never forgave her for not attending the funeral of his lover”, who had Aids. But when he finally accepts the mission to prettify her for the grave, it proves surprisingly restorative. This is Kier’s film, but it also has a “fabulous” soundtrack featuring music from a host of gay icons including Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey. 

Kier is never less than watchable, and he is on “captivating” form here, said Glenn Kenny in The New York Times. It is just a shame that “the film itself doesn’t match him”. There are too many “plot inconsistencies”, and too many characters speaking “wisdom from beyond the grave”. 

I found this “bittersweet lo-fi comedy” deeply moving, said Danny Leigh in the FT. It has “a pinpoint eye for the stuff of getting old. Memories feel more real than the present”; an old-school brand of cigarettes “has a whole personal history wrapped up in it. It is a treat all round, but impossible to picture without Kier in the lead: star power raging against the dying of the light to a defiant disco beat.

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