On the trail of two mermaids
by Dorota Hartwich
- Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyńska talks about her feature debut, The Lure, which is being presented at Sundance in the World Cinema Dramatic competition
Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Smoczyńska discusses her feature debut, The Lure [+see also:
interview: Agnieszka Smoczyńska
film profile], which is being presented at Sundance in the World Cinema Dramatic competition.
Cineuropa: At the Gdynia Film Festival, where you received the Best Debut Film Award, The Lure was a total bombshell. Did you know right from the beginning that the movie would buck the current trends in Polish film production?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Yes, because ever since the screenplay and treatment stages, those who didn’t believe in the film were more numerous than those who supported it. The warm welcome at Gdynia was therefore a real surprise and was very rewarding for the entire team. It allowed us to believe that the somewhat absurd idea that the film was based on could defend itself without any help – the idea that the main characters could be two mermaids who also eat men… The idea that the film didn’t necessarily have to be a musical comedy, but a deconstruction of that genre, and so on. The project was divisive from the outset, but I knew it wasn’t a matter of making it for everyone, but rather for those whose sensibilities are close to mine.
Where did you get the idea for the two mermaids?
Robert Bolesto, who wrote the screenplay, wanted us to make a film about two of his friends who were brought up in dance bars during the communist era in Poland, because their parents belonged to a music group that played in those bars. And seeing how I also spent a lot of time in those kinds of bars during my childhood, as my mother ran two of them, it was an idea that filled me with enthusiasm. So first of all, we wanted to tell the story of two little girls, but in the end we decided to make them mermaids because of all the symbolism that goes hand in hand with it: an archetype, a girl who is growing and developing, a chrysalis waiting to become a woman. And so we gave the characters masks. And obviously, I also thought of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, and I wanted to make a reimagining or a reinterpretation of it.
The film juggles various styles and genres, swinging from a children’s story to a musical comedy, via a psychological drama and a thriller. But there is also the matter of the ambiguous relationship between two sisters.
That’s a key motif. And I’d like to stress that we treated the characters very seriously. Yes, the tone may be comical, but the story, and especially the relationship between the two sisters, is very important, very significant. The two mermaids are like two aliens, with each unable to live without the other, because if one disappeared, the other would know straight away that she would be the only surviving member of her race.
Polish feminists like the film because they think it emphasises the strength of women and shows men as somewhat passive and powerless. Would you agree with that?
Not particularly. I wouldn’t say that men are presented as powerless. Before they show off their brute force, the two girls are exploited like toys, almost like Barbie dolls or sort of "freaks" for the show. The screenplay was written by a man, and I don’t think he’s a feminist. But I appreciate the fact that the audience can come up with its own contexts, clues and interpretations.
The story unfolds in the 1980s, complete with all the contradictions inherent in that era: the bar, the dancing, and the illusion of liberation and freedom, but also the repression, with the militia and a member of the secret service. However, they are nothing more than undertones. Why did you choose not to address the historical backdrop in more detail?
The story doesn’t happen literally in the 1980s, but rather as if it were the 1980s. It’s a very specific period in the history of Poland, and indeed, people did suggest that we stress the historical side of things a little more. But I really wanted to retain a mermaid’s point of view, and therefore that of a little girl, without encroaching on the language of documentaries. Indeed, all of the masks and conventions aside, first and foremost I wanted to tell a serious and frank story about our emotions.
(Translated from French)