The Lure

in 9th Off Plus Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema, Krakow

by Rafal Marszalek

Until recently, Agnieszka Smoczynska has been working as a documentary filmmaker, and The Lure (Polish title : Córki dancingu) is her first feature. This debut, both ambitious and controversial, has received many prizes: Smoczynska received the Polish “Discovery of the Year “award, or “Eagles”; at the Sundance FF, the film received a Special Jury Prize (for its Unique Vision and Design); at the Calgary Underground FF it received the best feature award; and finally, at the Netia Off Camera IF, Krakow 2016, it got the FIPRESCI Award.

From the very beginning of the film, Smoczynska takes us into a world of phantasy by introducing two mermaids, a Golden and a Silver one, near a beach, asking to be taken out of the water, which is done easily, but the cost of this turns out to be high as the two mermaids, despite their uncanny beauty, are doomed to make their leaving in a mediocre varieté, possibly forever.

The Lure offers realistic intertextual references to second-rate films, theatrical revues, and songs, which help structure the film along the genre lines of a musical. Borrowed from the miserable reality of “socialist” Poland from the 1980s – sometimes mediocre, sometimes naïve, but always funny – these songs contribute unexpectedly to the film’s lyricism. The poeticism of the songs by a contemporary group, called “Ballads and Romances” (for the Polish audience, an easily recognizable reference to the Romantic poem of one of Poland’s quintessential poets, Adam Mickiewicz!), for example, creates an elevated, phantasmal atmosphere, meant to convey the subjective feelings of the mermaids.

Does this make the film melodramatic? Definitely not. For once we become inclined to commiserate with the mermaids as objects of exploitation, they suddenly turn into vampires! Taking advantage of the fact that everyone perceives them as victims, they destroy people all around, biting into their necks and sucking blood! Thus this stark reality-based phantasy, spiced up with melodramatic elements, changes to horror. And yet again, although the suspenseful atmosphere is intense, the film steers away from the horror film genre patterns. There are no black and white characters in this strange world, for good and evil – albeit divided – remain inseparable parts of one whole. And thus the two mermaids, despite their unbridled aggressiveness, never stop dreaming of a real love, with their general ambivalence best captured by the words of a song: “Magnetism of hearts has attracted me/ but I won’t love any more”. And since good cannot survive without love and happiness, the Golden and the Silver mermaids cannot find a place in the brave new (in)human world.

It goes without saying that such an ambiguous storyline could be risky, yet it reflects most adequately Smoczynska’s preference for mixing film conventions and narrative styles. And works not only because of her abilities, but also because of the very positive response of both audiences and critics. After all, don’t we now all live in the yellow submarine, called postmodernism?

Edited by Christina Stojanova