In her debut, a weird and wild musical horror set in the 80s, Agnieszka Smoczyńska creates a world saturated in colour and Europop slickness that twists with absurdity and drips in blood. The Lure (Córki dancingu) is a concealed feminist fable addressed to fans of Tarantino rather than Disney.
The Lure is the most daring and craziest Polish debut since Eucalyptus by Marcin Krzyształowicz (2001). In the first Polish erotic western, native actors spoke broken English, the dialogues were read by Jan Suzin, a legendary TV presenter, and the director indulged himself in cinematic conventions with unprecedented insolence. Agnieszka Smoczyńska does something similar: her filmic erudition and love for cinema go hand in hand with artistic courage. Her imagination and sense of style overshadows her sporadic negligence in directorial craft.
We are in the 80s. In the ‘mottled grey’ reality of Communist Poland the main oasis of freedom and joy are dance clubs. Here, life is full of music and neon lights reflect off the sequined outfits of strippers. One such club recruits the Figs and Dates band to perform live gigs. One dark night the members of the band meet two teenaged aquatic sirens on the banks of the Vistula – Gold (Michalina Olszańska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek), who've swam from afar. Intrigued by their singing abilities and impressively long glittering mermaid tails the musicians bring them to the dance club. Gold and Silver become curiosities of the stage while undergoing a quick lesson in maturity.
There is an abundance of motifs in The Lure. The musical goes hand in hand with romance; gore cinema intertwines with romantic ballads, nostalgic story about coming of age and the power of love. The director of The Lure found various inspirations, such as Aleksandra Waliszewska’s paintings, and music composed by Ballady i Romanse (Ballads and Romances, sisters musicians Zuzanna and Barbara Wrońska also wrote the film's songs), as well as classic music videos, TV series from communist period and cinema masters. The stylistic excess of The Lure dazzles and obscures the fact that Smoczyńska’s film sometimes loses dramatic momentum and is based mainly on its spectacular visual form.
ballady i romanse
Nevertheless, The Lure is a unique film in Polish cinema. Not only because the young director skillfully plays with cinema conventions but mainly because she gives voice to her protagonists and speaks about female sexuality from the female perspective rather than following men's fantasies and imaginations. Polish cinema is still ruled by the supreme male gaze and women are usually given roles of ‘boutonnières’, trophies and ‘arm candy’ embellishing the male protagonists.
Smoczyńska disrupts this order. She tells a story about girls becoming women, but avoids the patterns known from ‘male’ cinema: she does not idealize her protagonists, and shows them neither as innocent angels nor as merciless femmes fatal. In The Lure the passion is stripped of prudishness, but is also far from pornography. The animal aspects confront mysterious subtlety. Female sexuality in Smoczyńska’s film has two faces, neither of which is better or worse. This duality is already discernible in the costumes and characterization – Gold and Silver are admittedly ethereally girlish, but when exposed to water their legs turn into a big tail which has nothing in common with Disney's neat mermaid tails, instead recalling the monstrous flesh of an eel or catfish.
Agnieszka Smoczyńska admits that her film is ‘an urban fable for adults’, moreover, a feminist fable and impressively beautiful. The young director, who grew up in dancing clubs herself, recreated the world of her childhood. In her film the reality of Warsaw of the 80s is exaggerated, and saturated with melancholy and longing. Through the lens of cinematographer Jakub Kijowski that reality has nothing in common with the grey real world of late communism in Poland.
The Lure was first screened at the Film Festival in Gdynia in 2015, and its makers received a great deal of praise. Critics complimented the director's courage (Smoczyńska received the award for best debut), the imaginativeness of the set design, the excellent vocals of Kinga Preis, and the acting skills of the young actresses Michalina Olszańska and Marta Mazurek. The Lure is a film which Polish cinema lacked – daring and uncompromising. Smoczyńska did not seek to please a wide audience, but unwaveringly told a feminist fable about the liberation of women from the corset of male projections.
- The Lure/Córki dancingu, dir. Agnieszka Smoczyńska, script: Robert Bolesto, cinematography: Jakub Kijowski, music. Ballady i Romanse, cast: Michalina Olszańska, Marta Mazurek, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, Jakub Gierszał, Marcin Kowalczyk, Magdalena Cielecka, Katarzyna Herman, Zbigniew Malanowicz. Distribution: Kino Świat. Premiere: 25.12.2015
Author: Bartosz Staszczyczyn, December 2015, ed.&transl. GS