Be forewarned, this article contains spoilers.
100% original Polish mermaid musical, “The Lure” directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska in the Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Section is Agnieszka’s first film and is an accomplished, multi layered send-up of a pair of mermaid sisters.
More siren-like than the little mermaid we know and love, the film is reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid and Le Motte Fouque’s Ondine. Two mermaid sisters play out the dark and light side of the archetypical mythological creatures. Marta Mazurek plays Silver, the Ondine character who gives up her life for love of a mortal while Golden, played by the alluring Michalina Olszańska plays the dark side of the siren who devours men. Both play off each other in a beautiful and, at the same time, horrific way.
It will be interesting to see how they play together – again – in the upcoming Berlinale Panorama Opening Night Film, “I, Olga Hepnarova”. This Czech, Polish, French, Slovakian coproduction shows a young woman from what was then Czechoslovakia who has drifted into the restricted circumstances from which she tries to escape with a disastrous act of liberation. She is ultimately subjected to the death penalty which was in place there until 1989. (BTW, two other films make the death penalty their main topic at the Panorama: “Shepherds and Butchers” from South Africa and the Brazilian documentary “Curumim”.)
Kinga Prajs, Andrzej Konopka, and Jakub Gierszal also star and bring their own special qualities to the screen. Jakub Gierszal, the young hearthrob, was also in the Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic winner “Morris from America”, Wolfe Releasing’s “The Suicide Room” and the Polish pick for Oscar nomination in 2010 “All That I Love”.
All the characters have changeable personalities which shift through the various events of the story and which keep the audience just enough off-balance to perplex and beguile them.
In all, this is a very sexy, seductive quasi-comedy which does not hesitate to add a little Brian de Palma “Sisters” or David Cronenberg-esque “Crash” and “Dead Ringers” elements to make the horror more shocking-bizarre than shocking-scary.
Director Agnieszka Smoczynska said that the film was finished in September and they sent it to Sundance who responded immediately and asked that they not send it to any other festivals.
“It was life-changing.”
What was your inspiration?
Agnieszka Smoczynska: My mom ran such a restaurant as in the movie. I found a writer who said, ‘let’s make a film with musicians because his parents used to play music in such a restaurant where they danced during the Communist times. Growing up in such a place: is is too close, there’s too much drama, too much alcohol. Rather than make the stories so personal the writer said ‘let’s put on masks’, and so we made the mermaids. I loved mermaids. I knew of Homer’s mermaids, the sirens. It is a type of genre.
How did you make the film?
Agnieszka Smoczynska: The process of making the movie was interesting. We started with a treatment and worked with music, musicians and a choreographer to create the first draft.
Then we gave it to the sound designer and he wrote a sound script, like a score, and he put in music, some songs. Some went into the movie and some went out. Each character has their own song which creates a diverse array.
Dancing was also very specific in Poland and behind the Iron Curtain. There were very special shows, with a magician, music, acts, dancing. People came to the place every weekend. It was all very 80s.
The set design was also very 80s but there were modern elements and lots of my own memories of colors. Outside of the restaurants, there was no color. Everything was all very gray…until the 90s.
It was also important for us not to put too much politics. As a child I did not know about such things and so the mermaids do not know such things.
How did you fund the film?
Agnieszka Smoczynska: A good thing for Poland is that the Polish Film Institute gives almost 100% of the budget. 85 to 90% of the budget is given to first time filmmakers. Polish TV also shows the movies and there is guaranteed Polish distribution.
The story was so crazy that every producer said no one outside of Poland would understand it. Only National Company, a 60-year-old traditional studio believed in it because the head of the company likes dancing so much.
Agnieszka Smoczyńska is a graduate of the University of Silesia’s Krzysztof Kieślowski Faculty of Radio and Television in directing, the Wajda School, and the University of Wroclaw in culture studies. She received the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage Scholarship and won the My Talent for Poland program and Golden PEN award, granted by the President of Poland. Her short films “Kapelusz”, “3 Love”, and “Aria Diva” have won awards at film festivals around the world.