The Lure *** / *****
Directed by: Agnieszka Smoczynska.
Written by: Robert Bolesto.
Starring: Marta Mazurek (Silver), Michalina Olszanska (Golden), Jakub Gierszal (Mietek), Kinga Preis (The Nightclub Singer), Andrzej Konopka (Drummer), Zygmunt Malanowicz (The House Manager), Magdalena Cielecka (Boskie Futro), Katarzyna Herman (Milicjantka), Marcin Kowalczyk (Tryton / Dedal).
If there was an award for weirdest film of the year, than Agnieszka Smoczynska’s debut feature The Lure would be a shoo-in for the win. This is a horror/musical/comedy about two mermaids in Communist era Poland, who come ashore to join a nightclub act. One of them falls in love with a man she shouldn’t – dooming her to a tragic end – and the other is more likely to rip out someone’s throat than to do anything else. The film takes weird narratives twists and turns – most of them completely out of left field, with little holding reasoning behind it. Does the film work? Not really – at least not in a traditional sense. The musical numbers are better as set pieces than they are as songs, and it’s impossible to find your footing in the movie, because as soon as you do, the film flies off in a different direction. Then again, that’s part of the movies charm. This is a film that feels more like a dream than anything – a fever dream at that, and the result is at least always interesting.
The two mermaids are named Silver and Golden and are played by Marta Marurek and Michalina Olsazanka. They are drawn out of the water by Mietek as he sings on the water’s edge, and they follow him back to the dingy club he works in as a bassist. If the pair are dry, then they look like any other human women – except they lack certain holes below the waste. Splash some water on them, and they’ll grow enormously long fish tales. In either form, they’re as likely to be naked as not – and the crash club owner decides to put them in the show, because, of course, everyone like duos. They can sing too - and when in fish form, communicate with each other in some strange fish language.
The one narrative thread the movie follows from beginning to end is the relationship between Silver and Mietek. She falls for him, hard, and even though he tells her that “You’ll always be a fish to me” – she willing sacrifices everything for him. Golden isn’t so subservient – and is the one responsible for all the blood in the film.
The film plays with ideas of the male gaze, misogyny and female sexuality in strange ways – sometimes in way that seem almost literal (a man complaining of a “fish smell” in a slit in the tail of one of the mermaids, the blood involved in a key sexual encounter between Mietek and Silver), and sometimes in obscure ways. All the characters in the movie function more like metaphors and symbols than actual people. There are levels on top of levels here, than you could spend a long time trying to piece it all together – the films constantly shifting narrative, and bizarre visuals and musical numbers keep you guessing to the end.
On its most basic level though, The Lure is more conventional than it first seems, as it about a girl, who throws everything away for an unworthy man – who changes who she is to be accepted by him, and still gets tossed aside. At least Golden’s there too though to set things right.