“Bitch,” which opened in theaters this week, is about a dog that has her day. The film and its title character, a stereotype- and archetype-busting double-entendre, are the work of Marianna Palka, a 5-foot, 11-inch gale-wind force of feminist activism and outrage.
Luckily for the disgraced, deplorable men monopolizing the headlines lately, Palka channels her indignation creatively, writing, directing and starring in her own movies. Otherwise, you could easily imagine her taking them down with one of the devastating blows her character, wrestler Reggie Walsh, inflicts on competitors in the Netflix series, “Glow.”
“‘Bitch’ is for guys like [Harvey] Weinstein, who missed the point of reality,” Palka said of the fallen Hollywood studio head. “It’s not about anything other than consent. Everybody is safer now that the dialogue is in place. It’s progress, in that it feels completely different. It feels like we have the wind at our backs.”
“Bitch” oozes subversive woman-power. Jill (Palka), a suburban mother of four, is so tormented, she attempts to hang herself from the dining room chandelier by a thick leather belt tied around her neck. While she doesn’t succeed in ending her life, she does find a new one.
The significance of the dog barking incessantly in the family’s yard isn’t immediately clear until the kids come home from school the next day and discover their mother is a canine. The first sign of Jill’s transformation is her clothing on the floor next to a puddle of urine. It’s not the most glamorous role for an actress. For most of the movie, Jill barks and snarls viciously at the bottom of the basement stairs, naked, her long hair filthy and wild.
Bill (Jason Ritter) is Jill’s selfish and neglectful husband. “She doesn’t get a break,” said Palka. “There’s almost this homicidal ideation of lashing out at herself. We can relate to her situation. Her husband only cares about himself, his job and his mistress.”
Palka was inspired by a patient of Scottish physician R.D. Laing, a woman dealing with empty-nest syndrome, who became confused about her identity. “There’s something so visceral about Jill going to the basement,” Palka said. “The art I make is very responsible. It doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. It’s dark that becomes lighter”
“Good Dick,” Palka’s 2008 directorial debut, stars Atlantic Theater Company pal Ritter as a video store clerk, who falls for Palka’s character, a shut-in with a taste for soft porn. She doesn’t like sex, it turns out, because her father abused her. “People are sexually abused and don’t know how to be intimate,” said Palka, who received the New Directors award for “Good Dick” from Sean Connery at the Edinburgh Film Festival that year.
“Egg,” starring Christina Hendricks, Anna Camp and Alysia Reiner, “is like ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.’ It’s about two couples who come together, and in one evening, dismantle the idea of having a baby,” said Palka, who was tapped to direct the 2018 release. “One couple is pregnant, the other questions what having a baby would mean. How many people have a baby because their spouse wants them to, and how many babies are accidents. ‘Egg’ also explores desperately wanting a baby and being unable to have one.”
Palka was born in Scotland into a “family of strong beautiful women.” Her parents were involved in promoting the Polish freedom and solidarity movement. “They were very hopeful and not nihilistic at all. When the [Berlin] Wall came down, we really felt like we had a part in it.”
When she was 17, she moved to New York to “devote my life to acting. I read a lot about James Dean and the Actor’s Studio. New York theater changes people’s lives, for sure. Being wild and free in New York, I was much more of a badass than I am now.” Palka moved to L.A., which has allowed her to land roles in “Girls” and do a love scene with James Franco “even if it was in a corset,” she said, referring to “A Rose for Emily,” one of four William Faulkner stories Franco is adapting for his movie, “Mississippi Requiem.” “I felt like my brain went away and my organs moved around. Women were corseted because it made their brains go away.
“I have a clear vision of a long-term relationship as a Shangri-La,” Palka said. “People should be held every day and spun around. The lie about being single is that, in reality, you’re going to have more sex in a relationship.”
Palka gets her romantic notions about marriage from her parents. “My mom and dad were the best example of what you could be as a couple,” she said. “They made art together, and had a business together. I’m not confused by what I want or what I deserve. It goes back to what I’m doing in my work. We can agree to disagree. Just smile at the person you love and fight with the person in the street,” she said, quoting her beloved grandmother.