by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

What sort of mental picture have you formed from the title? Are you picturing a cute girly cartoon? Wrong. It's a dark, twisted, sexually charged pseudo-supernatural "thriller" from Nic Roeg, the 79-year-old auteur who previously created Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don't Look Now, Castaway and Bad Timing, all in the period 1971-1986.

So what's the deal with the title? The Puffball is a type of wild mushroom which resembles a woman's swollen belly, and this is a film about pregnancy.

Or something.

I'm not really sure what it's about, to tell you the truth. I'm not even positive that the writer and director knew, because it is supposed to be adapted from a book by Fay Weldon, and from what I have been able to determine (I haven't read it), that book is brimming with wit and clever dialogue. Although the script for this film was written by the son of the late Weldon, I see no sign of wit, and gathered not the vaguest inkling that the writer or Roeg tried to put any ironic distance between themselves and this preposterous story about Norse mythology, Celtic voodoo, aphrodisiacs, rabid stable couplings, stolen spirit-children, sperm, and rocks with holes in them. I suppose the self-important humorlessness should come as no surprise. Roeg has been in the film business for fifty years and has continually demonstrated that he lacks even the slightest sense of humor.

Of all Roeg's earlier films, Puffball is most similar to Don't Look Now. It takes the earlier film's premise of a normal young couple trapped in a menacing, ominous Venice and transports the couple to  the menacing, ominous Irish countryside, where they unexpectedly create a pregnancy and stir up deep feelings of envy in the local harridans, especially a woman who is trying futilely to become pregnant and feels that the outsider has stolen her child.

There were exceptions among the critics, but most of the scribes who profess to like Roeg's earlier films found this one to be like an unintentional parody of them, with all of the director's familiar devices exaggerated to ridiculous extremes. There is, for example, obvious sexual symbolism, some of it not so symbolic. Come to think of it, it's not really symbolism when you can see sperm squirting into a womb from the inside, is it? Let's just call it sexual imagery. There are several seconds of what appears to me to be an actual penis violating an actual vulva, as shot in extreme close-up, porn style, but disguised by fancy colored lenses and an absence of hair. Or maybe it is symbolism and it's actually something extremely similar to a penis penetrating something extremely similar to a vagina, in which case it takes the award for the most heavy-handed symbolism of all time, since it looks exactly like real coitus. This is far beyond the ol' "train entering a tunnel" device.

And the symbolism is actually subtle compared to the stereotypical Irish rurals and the oppressive Celtic musical cues!

If Roeg fans found this movie difficult to watch, you can imagine how I felt, because I don't even like his "classics." I always find his narratives jumbled, his themes too-too serious and self-important, his execution very close to high camp, and the overall effect inevitably soporific. I mean, c'mon. I sat through two hours of Don't Look Now to find out that Sutherland's vision of his dead child was actually an evil dwarf. As I pointed out in my review of Don't Look Now:

"You know what the explanation really was? There was a serial killer wondering around Venice, skulking in and out of the shadows, and that is whom Sutherland mistook for the ghost of his daughter. So what's so odd about that? I'll tell you. The serial killer was an evil dwarf who looked exactly like a ten year old girl. So what's so unlikely about that? Well, I might have bought into it partially, except that the serial killer skulked around Venice in a shiny red overcoat. I know that I'm neither short enough nor evil enough to think like an evil dwarf, but if I were an evil serial-killing dwarf, I'd try to dress a little bit less conspicuously."

Since the people who like Roeg's best movies generally found Puffball unbearable, and I find many of Roeg's best movies to be laughably awful, you can probably figure out how I felt about this one.



* awaiting DVD information








5.5 IMDB summary (of 10)


No theatrical release in the USA. IMDb shows a limited release on February 29, 2008, but that appears incorrect.


While there is always a lively debate about the genuine merit of Roeg's earlier films and a significant amount of disagreement about Nic Roeg's proper place in the directorial pantheon, there is absolutely no dispute about his place in the film nudity Hall of Fame. When it came to getting hot chicks naked and testing the limits of censorial permissiveness, Nic was as good as anyone in any era, so his films are always must-watch fodder for horndogs. Amanda Donohoe is stark naked throughout Castaway, as is Jenny Agutter throughout Walkabout. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie were rumored to be doin' the nasty for real in Don't Look Now, and The Man Who Fell to Earth features several scenes with naked young girls doing various things to Rip Torn's penis while the camera rolls.

Roeg again delivers sex and nudity in Puffball:

  • there's a little vixen (Leona Igoe) running through the woods with her bum exposed.
  • ... and some very hot rural sex scenes featuring Kelly Reilly's breasts.
  • ... and more barn sex with Miranda Richardson. There's no nudity from Miranda, but the scene includes the controversial arty close-up which either portrays penetration or pseudo-penetration.
  • ... and, of course, there's the aforementioned internal cum shot, in the form of stock footage from high school sex-ed class.

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


In my heart I want to rate it lower, but it is professionally assembled and acted, so some Roeg fans will probably enjoy it. The reviewer for one Montreal newspaper thought it was a masterpiece!