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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2019 Competition

Malgorzata Szumowska • Director of The Other Lamb

The Other Lamb is a little bit weird”


- Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska chatted to Cineuropa about her new film, The Other Lamb, which is playing in competition at the San Sebastián and London Film Festivals

Malgorzata Szumowska  • Director of The Other Lamb
(© Jorge Fuembuena/SSIFF)

Inimitable Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska has built an illustrious oeuvre by creating ambiguous, open-ended films about gender power dynamics and religious moralism. The Other Lamb [+see also:
film review
interview: Malgorzata Szumowska
film profile
, starring Raffey Cassidy, Denise Gough and Michiel Huisman, is her first English-language movie. Shot in Ireland, it’s the macabre tale of a 15-year-old girl who suddenly questions the structures of the cult in which she has grown up. The Other Lamb is playing in competition at the San Sebastián and London Film Festivals after having had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: Why did you want to make a film in English?
Malgorzata Szumowska: I'd made seven feature films, most of them in Polish, and one in French with Juliette Binoche. Somehow, I was ready to jump into something completely different. Maybe I was also tired of writing my own screenplays, telling stories about my own country all the time. Working in English made me feel like I was out of the Polish context and the arthouse context. It's like escaping from a kind of niche. I like it. I said to myself, “If not now, then when?”

Were you looking for an English-language script, or did it come to you?
I was offered a couple of other scripts from the US market, and I passed on them. I was not desperate to make an English-language movie. When The Other Lamb arrived, I thought it might be something for me, as I was searching for something that's connected to my sensibility.

The film has many themes that are constant in your body of work: religion, patriarchy, hierarchy and a rigid power structure. Was that what you saw?
Exactly. All of these elements I found very familiar – also, the use of the physical body, menstruation, female sexuality, and sexuality in general. I don't feel disconnected from the film because someone else wrote the script, especially as I did a lot of work on the screenplay. I put in the dreams, and also, I had to adapt it to the production circumstances, which entailed 25 shooting days and only three weeks of prep. We had a tight budget – everything was very tight.

What research did you do into cults?
I watched so many documentaries. Some of them were huge inspirations for the film – things like Wild Wild Country and Holy Hell, but also strange, unknown documentaries on YouTube. There are so many of them about cults, about men surrounded by 25 women. It's fascinating because I couldn't understand why they are following those guys. They were maybe charismatic, but in my opinion, they were absolutely not attractive. That's why I said, “At the very least, our leader has to be attractive, as that might be a reason to follow him.” I think it's about a mentality that people have because of the history and cultural circumstances. Women, especially, are so insecure that it's easy to manipulate them in a certain way – easier than it is with men. I think it's changing right now; it's a revolution. But for many years, thousands of years, women were victims of the situation.

You leave the film vague. You paint a picture of a society, but you leave it open to many interpretations…
Of course. I'm not giving any answers, and I'm not providing one single interpretation, which I like, somehow. The film is a little bit weird.

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