What to make of "Moonlighting?" Could it be a Polish joke without a punchline?

Jeremy Irons stars in this peculiar film, which won its director/producer/writer Jerzy Skolimowski an award for best screen-play at Cannes in 1982. Certainly it's a wordy piece, and for Irons practically a one-man show. It's about four Poles who travel to London to renovate their boss' townhouse, cheap.

Irons' strong, silent, servile supporting cast -- Eugene Lipinski, Jiri Stanislav, Eugeniusz Hackiewicz -- begins to dismantle the set (the director's own townhouse). They knock out plaster, rip out lathing, replumb and rewire the place, even strip the brick with, my guess would be, muriatic acid. It's a movie that serious do-it-yourselfers can relate to.

Meanwhile, Irons, the only one who speaks English, learns that the Polish military has imposed martial law, suspended the Gdansk agreement and outlawed Solidarity. But don't expect political enlightenment unless you can penetrate the murky parallelism between Irons' determinism and the Communist clampdown.

What the film really explores is obsession. Irons decides to keep martial law secret from the men until they've finished the house, down to sanding the pine floors. When he's nearly broke, he takes up shop-lifting to feed the men. He drives them 18 to 21 hours a day and breaks their watches so they won't know they're getting so little sleep. Why do they put up with it? They're all bigger than he is. And why the completion compulsion? Chances are they'll never be paid. Chances are the owner will never use it.

Maybe it's all just a bad case of workaholism. Anyway, it ends with a six-hour walk along a dark highway to Heathrow Airport. It's a real let-down, unless a good drywall job is resolution enough for you.

MOONLIGHTING -- At the Dupont Circle.