The Lure (2017)

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This film is a pretty fun one to explain to your friends: a Polish, horror-comedy musical about Mermaids by a first time, female director. There’s a lot going on in that description and, coincidentally, there is a lot going on in this film. While the modern-day fairy tale explores some very interesting themes and imagery, it has some inconsistencies with tone that remind you that this is the work of a first-time director.

Mermaids Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) come ashore during a bizarre family picnic between Krysia (Kinga Preis), Perkusista (Andrzej Konopka), and Mietek (Jakub Gierszal). After almost luring the men into the water, the family brings the mermaids ashore and to the strip club where they perform as musical entertainment. The owner of the club is excited to have real live, actual mermaids who can perform in the show, and quickly hires them- although their pay goes to the family that has taken them in.

The film is, like most modern stories about mermaids, an exploration of female sexuality, particularly in youth. The film’s obvious parallels to The Little Mermaid closely reflect the Hans Christian Anderson original, but also spend time refuting the Disney animated classic of the same name. The two mermaids are what adds to the conversation- now instead of the “little mermaid” acting in a vacuum, there is a conversation going on between two girls who are in the same situation.

(I hate to use this qualifier but, spoilers ahead.)

On the one hand, we have Silver, who is obviously interested in a conventional, sexual relationship with Mietek. She quickly kisses him, flirts with him, plays the part of the innocent girl who wants to be “taken” by a masculine figure. Time after time she goes out of her way to make herself into what she believes he wants and expects from her. And, if we pay attention to our fairy tales, we can anticipate how well that is going to go for her. Golden, on the other hand, is concerned with two things- herself and her sister. When she is hungry for human flesh, she eats it. She explores her own sexuality and does what she things is fun. She is worried about her sister and always trying to steer her in the right direction. The strength of this character is only highlighted by the incredible performance by Michalina Olszanska, an actress who I will be going out of my way to see more of.

At the end of the film there is a crucial choice that Silver has to make, and one that Golden has repeatedly expressed her feelings on. And when the time comes to make that choice, and Silver chooses Mietek over her sister, Golden is horrified. The film ends with her retreating, alone, to the sea, to see her sister punished for doing exactly what she thought was the right thing. It could not be much clearer that this film is making a commentary on the way women are expected to behave, and how harmful this is to women and girls in a community. In expressing these views, I found the film quite successful.

There are elements in the film that are quite lacking. The character Krysia is a surprising non-entity, when I believe that a stronger presence from her could have brought some glue to the film. The screenplay left a lot to be desired, and there is a strong disparity between the two halves. I will admit to feeling like I was watching tow different movies, and I’m not confident that that is a good or exciting thing. However, I found the music engaging, the performances spectacular, and the consistency of the mermaid lore refreshing. There is not enough use of mermaid symbology in films, and it was wonderful to see someone who took the rules of their world seriously and used the symbols to their full potential.

The Lure is exactly what I wanted and was expecting in that it was bizarre. But it was not the most cohesive film. However, its disparate elements were not enough to cloud my enjoyment of the journey.

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The Fits (2016)

the-fits-interview-feature.jpgThe Fits is a movie that has been on a lot of top 10 lists in 2016, and is readily accessible if you have Amazon Prime (it’s been streaming for several months now). Now that the Oscars are on the horizon and the pressure is really on to finish a top 10 for 2016, I’ve been knocking out films from earlier in the year that critics and bloggers that I admire have been high lighting in their yearly wrap ups, and I thought I would check out this film.

There are magical things about The Fits, the coming of age drama by director Anna Rose Holmer. Holmer has previously worked in several different departments in the film industry, and directed a documentary in 2010 called 12 Ways to Sunday. The film is portrait of young tomboy Toni, in a SPECTACULAR performance from child actor Royalty Hightower, as she makes her way through her first year on the dance team at her local community center.While trying to become a better dancer and make a name apart from her successful boxer brother, the other girls on the team start experiencing seizure-like trances called “The Fits.”

This film was not really what I expected, and it took me a while to adjust my expectations. But I don’t know that the film really decides whether or not it is a story about Toni finding herself, or a movie about the strange thing that is happening to this group of dancers. While some girls are hoping for The Fit to happen to them, Toni maintains that she doesn’t want to get it. But while asserting her own identity, she also is trying to do her best to be a part of this dance team collective. And instead of feeling like she is trying to maintain individuality in a collective, it seems like she is contradicting herself.

I’m going to break the professional tone that I usually strive for while writing reviews for this site just to say- I really have no clue what the Fits are. The easiest possibility is that this strange phenomenon is a representation of womanhood, that the Fits are a stand in for menstrual periods, which can pull young girls apart in the years when some friends may be having periods and some friends may not. But the analogy isn’t perfect in this film. It could be commentary on conformity, or on the difficulty of finding yourself, and when you finally feel comfortable in your own skin you have this strange, physical experience. But none of these really line up, and it leaves you thinking after the film. Whether or not this thought is engaging with the thematic content of the film, or simply trying to figure out what that thematic content might be, will depend on the viewer.

The film was funded entirely by grants, features a real drill team, and has dozens and dozens of child actor. This small production size could have resulted in something that feels thrown together or too small, but in this film, it gives us this tremendous authenticity. Since the girls are all on a dance team together in real life, their chemistry on screen is infectious. The young performers bring a lively energy and curiosity that elevates the film.

But there are downsides. When the film doesn’t have this infectious energy, it has a pace so slow as to make a 75-minute film feel like it drags. Toni’s contemplation and frequent silence are sometimes compelling and sometimes tedious. The score, by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, often leaves these moments of contemplation feeling sinister, as if Toni shouldn’t be thinking so much about the world around her. And the film’s final dream sequence, a perfect visualization of who she wishes to be, left this reviewer feeling like she was looking for something more than there may have been on the screen.

The Fits is an interesting film and I will certainly be looking for the work of the crew and cast in the future. And while it is a flawed picture, it is worth the watch if you’re interested in a different perspective or type of filmmaking. Be prepared to actively engage with this piece, and let yourself ask the questions.