Sunday 19 November 2017
Fish N’ Blood
The Lure (aka Córki Dancingu)
Poland 2015 Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska
Criterion Collection - available in US & UK as appropriate zone.
What if I told you that here is a film which tells the story of two flesh eating mermaid sisters who work with their mother in a strip club? What if I further told you that it’s a musical? And how about if I told you it’s an adaptation of The Little Mermaid, complete with nudity and gory violence?
Honestly, it only took knowing the first of those three propositions to hook me into The Lure. The musical numbers scattered prolifically about this movie are just the icing on the cake. As for The Little Mermaid? Well I don’t know the story and I haven’t seen any of the cinematic iterations of it over the years, except this one. I can’t imagine the Disney version ends the same way as the original story does, however and, it would be true to say that I suspect, in terms of its end game, this one echoes the source material a little closer... although without the end coda of hope and reward that the original story kinda drops into the mix as a spoonful of sugar to make the bitter pill of that original ending go down a little smoother.
However, I was blissfully unaware of the original story when I started watching this so... all the better when the characters here start talking about eating a certain character before one of them turns into sea foam and such forth, I guess. But I’m ahead of myself.
It’s been a while since I was properly looking at Polish cinema, I think. I’ve probably not seen any since the death of one of my favourite directors, Krzysztof Kieslowski, back in 1996. This one could well get me back into it though because it’s a meticulously crafted and beautiful film and I have to stop and give credit here to fellow tweeter and movie/art blogger Alex Kittle for giving me the ‘heads up’ on this one (and you can read her review of this film here).
I knew I was onto a good thing from the opening logo to the picture. It’s obviously a company that’s been put together to make this particular film, I would guess, as the animated logo shows two mermaids swimming in the sky around a long, phallic tower which starts ejaculating fireworks. It was possibly worth the price of the considerably expensive Criterion Collection CD for just this few seconds of imagery but, honestly, this is one of those films that doesn’t stop giving.
The opening credits are equally beautiful with some nice, minimalist animated work depicting the mermaid sister protagonists of the film in some kind of aquatic cave... the skulls and skeletons of their dead human victims piled up around their natural environment or bobbing on the surface of the water.
We then have a strange prologue which I didn’t quite understand, where the two sisters swim to the bank of a canal and, as I originally thought, ate two men. However, these men seem to be the same two characters who dominate the male cast in the movie and this scene definitely wasn’t a flashback. Since they just disappear through a jump cut to the mermaid’s mum screaming, I can only assume that they definitely didn’t get eaten after all and that this is why the two sisters end up in the strip club with their mother and the two men in the next sequence... which shows a singer belting out an old, I think, Bronski Beat (?) song. While this music continues, the manager is trying to track down a fishy smell and, as he goes through the different rooms in his strip club while the guests are being entertained, the various people such as the cook and the waiters are all in beat with the rhythm of the music. This was my first inkling that this really was going to turn into a ‘hard musical’ at some point soon. The manager tracks the smell down to the two mermaids in their mother’s dressing room and his main bouncer (played by Andrzej Konopka) shows the mermaids off to him. They are stripped down and they have no body hair at all and, it has to be said, rather curious looking vaginal lips (it might be the way it’s been shot, though). A cup of water is then poured onto their legs and their fish tails grow into place, with their real vaginas half way down their incredibly long and beautiful fish tails.
The two mermaids are called Silver (played truly joyfully by an amazing young actress called Marta Mazurek) and Gold (played truly sinisterly by another amazingly talented actress called Michalina Olszanska) and they are instantly given jobs as singers/strippers working with their mum. It’s to the credit of writer Robert Bolesto and director Agnieszka Smoczynska that they don’t try to explain the existence of mermaids and that all the characters who encounter them in the film in no way question that they must, in fact, be mermaids. This would only take time and get in the way of what is, after all, an adult fairytale with a simplistic purity to it. That being said, they are not the only ‘unusual creatures’ in the movie and there is a hint of a background world to the phenomena which is nicely done here without dominating the story. When the manager tells the others to take the girls out shopping for clothes, the film then goes full on into musical territory with a song and dance number set in a big clothes store and, by this point, I was completely hooked on the thing.
Now I’m not going to detail the rest of the story because I don’t want to spoil anything for you but I will say that the film doesn’t drag and I never once got bored with it. The style of the camerawork is pretty cool and almost shouldn't work, one might think. After all, various sequences are put together with smooth, slowish moving camera work with different angles being shot at different speeds of movement and edited together but, I have to tell you, the editor somehow gets away with it here and nothing detracts from the flow of the way you perceive the movie. It’s quite amazing.
The film is also very colourful with some wonderful combinations and also, occasionally, a logical colour coding system to some of the sequences. For instance, when one of the girls start singing in isolation with lyrics which are only for the ears of the people watching the film and not anyone actually in the scene, like a kind of musical narrative to the innermost thoughts of those characters, the lighting kind of suddenly takes on a turquoise shade, reflective of the sea, and everyone else but the character singing is frozen in time... which happens more than once.
There are also some lovely moments made by the director utilising the verticals of the environment as a big design feature in some of the shots. Sometimes she uses them like many directors have done historically, to highlight certain characters in their own delineated space and, at other times, she uses them to conceal things in the frame... such as when two layers of tiled wall are placed parallel to each other in front of the camera and the front plane is only revealed by a character walking out of view behind it... it’s cool stuff here.
Another nice touch is that the girls talk to each other telepathically. We get to hear what they are saying to each other through the subtitles but that’s obviously how it works on the original, non-subtitled Polish prints too because all that is heard on the soundtrack when the girls secretly communicate with each other is a kind of high pitched whale sound... and it works really effectively and is not out of place in a rather cute and fun, mostly light hearted film... albeit one that hides a dark and violent heart, as seen in various scenes as men become the bloody victims of one of the sisters. This is, after all, something of a comedy too and that’s more than amply demonstrated when the two sisters, in their fish forms, are being photographed naked but for stockings and suspenders awkwardly fitted over their fish tails. It’s a nice throwaway touch but it made me crack a smile, for sure.
And it’s a really great film which will stay in my mind for a long time. If I had any complaints it comes not from the film itself but from the translation. Song lyrics and rhyming poems are not the easiest thing to translate at the best of times, especially if you elect to keep the lines rhyming. So it would be true to say that the translations on the subtitles in some of the musical sections are... well, they’re a little but of a push with lyrics translated like...
“As fatal as hara-kiri,
My emotions make me silly.”
I couldn’t help but think of that old Simon & Garfunkel lyric from Kathy’s Song in this respect with their “words that tear and strain to rhyme”. However, credit to the translators for giving this a good go and, like I said, the films is very much a comedy piece too so the ridiculous lyrics here and there only add to the fun of the film.
And that’s me done on this one. The Criterion Collection release of The Lure is a sure fire tip to the hat on the quality of this production and readers based, like I, in Zone B needn’t worry about its availability. If you don’t yet have a multi-zone Blu Ray player then you’ll be fine because Criterion have also released this on their new Criterion UK label. Admittedly, it’s expensive and currently retailing at £18 here but, if you know the label then you know that you will be getting the absolute best transfer with some marvellous extras and that’s just what you get here. I haven’t watched those yet but included in the package are two short movie by Agnieszka Smoczynska so, yeah, this film is a bargain at this price. Especially when it’s such a great movie. If you are a fan of cinema in any capacity then you’ll want to give this one a look, I would think. I’m really pleased that this film dropped into my life and, as you can guess, it’s a definite recommendation from me.