Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska
Screenplay: Robert Bolesto
Starring: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, Jakub Gierszal
Running Time: 92 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Now this was a pleasant surprise. I didn't actually request a copy of The Lure (a.k.a. Córki dancingu)to review as I do with most of the titles I cover here, but it showed up on my doorstep anyway. I almost skipped it as I've got a pile of screeners to get through at the moment, but I heard a friend of mine raving about it and being a Criterion release I figured it'd be worth a watch, so I squeezed it into my schedule. I'm glad I did too as it proved to be a weird and wonderful treat.
The Lure sees a pair of mermaid sisters taken ashore and adopted by a family who work as a cabaret act in a seedy nightclub. One of the sisters, Silver (Marta Mazurek), is amazed by the human world and falls in love with Mietek (Jakub Gierszal), the son of her surrogate parents. Mietek can't accept Silver as a lover though, due to her still seeming like a fish to him, so Silver becomes determined to remove her tail and turn into a human. Meanwhile, the other sister, Golden (Michalina Olszanska), struggles to resist her animal urges to eat human flesh. As her once inseparable sister grows ever distant, Golden finds she can resist these urges no longer. It can't end well for either, can it?
The Lure is a strikingly unique take on the mermaid myth and the coming-of-age drama. The strange setting and up front sex and violence sets it aside from the Splash and Mermaids crowd, but what really surprises is the fact that it's presented as a full-blown musical. I'm not just talking about a couple of songs either, the characters regularly break out a tune, on and off the cabaret stage. For a low budget Polish production to tackle such a generally costly genre is a daunting task, but the director, Agnieszka Smoczynska, and the musicians and choreographers involved pull it off brilliantly. For one, the music, although more Europop-heavy than my usual tastes, is incredibly catchy and fairly diverse as the film moves on. The lyrics are warped and dark too, which I appreciated.
The presentation of the musical numbers is also impressive. There is only one what I'd call 'big' sequence with a lot of extras and fairly elaborate choreography, and it works very well, but for the most part the 'dance' pieces are kept small and intimate or utilise the typical nightclub setting, albeit with some unusual twists when the mermaids are on stage. The quieter sequences are very well done, with a number of poignant moments expressed beautifully through song. These still retain a dark edge through the imagery, such as an unusual scene where the human family members are injected with some kind of drug or when Silver sings whilst she undergoes a graphic but strangely beautiful lower body transplant.
Away from the musical aspects, the film looks and sounds great anyway. It's shot and designed with a strange mix of typically drab Eastern-European art house pastel colours and lurid neon, with added tacky glitz. It sounds like an ugly clash, but actually makes for a bizarrely stylish combination. A keen eye for framing and movement helps too. The special effects are impressive too, with the fish tails in particular looking disturbingly realistic. The filmmakers avoid showing too much of the actual transformation between legs and tails though, presumably as the effect was too tricky to pull off effectively.
In terms of content the film isn't quite as strong. The story is rather slight and meanders in the mid-section. Turning the hormonal teenage experience into a horror film isn't entirely new either, although it is presented in a most original fashion. An effectively moving ending helps strengthen the narrative too and prevents the film from feeling like a mere exercise in style.
The style can be distancing for the most part though, so much of the drama, including the finale, aren't as emotionally engaging as they perhaps could have been. Nevertheless, it's gloriously original, unusually stylish and willed with catchy Europop tunes and twisted dance numbers. I think I'd describe it as La La Land's distant 'black sheep' relative that you're told you shouldn't talk to or associate yourself with, but can't help be drawn to. I'd recommend you all take the plunge like I did, you won't be disappointed.
The Lure is out now on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by The Criterion Collection. The disc looks and sounds stunning, as is to be expected from the label.
There are quite a lot of special features included too:
- New program about the making of the film, featuring interviews with director Agnieszka Smoczynska, actors Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska, screenwriter Robert Bolesto, Kijowski, composers Barbara and Zuzanna Wronski, sound designer Marcin Lenarczyk and choreographer Kaya Koďż˝odziejczyk
- Deleted scenes
- Aria Diva (2007) and Viva Maria! (2010), two short films directed by Smoczynska
- PLUS: An essay by writer Angela Lovell