January 14, 2017

Cinema of Corneliu Porumboiu: Empty Gestures, Empty Words, and Troubled Transition

In 2001, thirty four year old Romanian Cristi Puiu made his directorial debut feature Stuff and Dough under a shoe-string budget. It was a road movie with distinct political undertones, pertaining to post-Ceausescu dictatorship (between 1965 and 1989) era in Romania. The movie also brims with dead pan comedy. Cristi Puiu mentions how watching Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law (1986) happened to be a key thing in shaping his cinematic language. Stuff and Dough is now widely regarded as the starting point of the fascinating Romanian New Wave. The wave surged with Puiu’s Un Certain Regard winner The Death of Lazarescu and reached higher visibility with Cristian Mungiu’s harrowing abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007), which won the prestigious Palme d’Or award. These Romanian movies took the ‘cinema verite’ style, avoiding forced melodrama, and full of tight composition and masterful long takes. The film-makers drew us to take in the non-event existence of the Romanian public, while gradually diffusing layers of subtleties. Like any other New Waves of cinema, the Romanian one was anticipated to have reached its saturation point at the start of this decade. Yet, Romanian cinema continues to make waves in the international arena. Last year, two masterly, complex dramas – from Cristian Mungiu (The Graduation) and Cristi Puiu (Sieranevada), screened at Cannes Film Festival – received glowing reviews and found a place in many critics’ top film lists of the year.  

Corneliu Porumobiu was a very important film-maker of the Romanian New Wave whose thematic spectrum widened & deepened the sociopolitical perspectives. As Puiu continued to do narrative experiments within the rigid visual style, and Mungiu dealt with ferocious subjects, Porumboiu perfected his visual and thematic reflections. Porumboiu has metamorphosed to be the most philosophical film-maker of the new wave (Radu Muntean was another central figure of the new wave, who followed different styles and explored new themes; Crisitian Nemescu and Catalin Mitulescu are also my favorite directors of the new wave). Like Puiu and Mungiu, Porumboiu also received coveted awards in the international film festivals (won Camera d’Or at Cannes for best debut feature -- for 12:08 East of Bucharest and Un Certain Regard for Police, Adjective). Porumboiu’s movies offer many surprisingly rich insights which could only be gleaned in re-watches. Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu’s works, despite the subdued visual tone, passes along blistering emotions to create immediate impact. Compared to those, Porumboiu films are like hushed-up poetry. So you need certain time to fully assimilate his seemingly simple narrative. And gradually, you could peel off the surface and blithely stroll across the subtle layers of Porumboiu’s visual poetry.

One of the primary themes of Romanian New Wave is to show how the traces of old apathetic, corrupted bureaucratic machinery are still embedded in the nation’s consciousness. So, Porumboiu and other film-makers never approach the 1989 revolution with adoration. They just treat it as a point where a long transition commenced. Amidst the Romanian film-makers, Porumboiu incisively depicts this transitional state. His films mostly capture central character’s physical movements in vivid details (from a distance that isn’t too far or too close). Literally and figuratively, the characters go through transition. However, their movements are blocked at a stage and the individual is forced to stay within the boundaries of faulty system. The characters’ desire for security or better life and mode of action gets lost in the blandly colored rooms of bureaucratic offices (or even in the dictionaries and law books). Immense focus is given to observe the non-events (like characters walking one end of the street to another). The non-events marvelously join together to pass off the feeling of wasted time and absurd, alienated atmosphere.

Corneliu Porumboiu was 14 years old during the 1989 revolution which toppled Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. In an interview (to Brooklyn magazine), Mr. Porumboiu says that communists came into Romania at a time when the country didn’t pass through consciousness, beliefs, and ideas like in western society. He states that their nation was somewhere between industrialization period and middle ages in the late 1940s. Communism only added more fake layers to the already empty ideals. The director’s filmography repeatedly strips off these natural-looking fake layers. The fascinating quality is that while subtly stripping off this fakery, Mr. Porumboiu never pushes us to take a judgmental stand. The characters remain as humans, cloaked under different flaws. 

 Director Corneliu Porumboiu studied management before pursuing film-studies at Bucharest’s I.L. Carnegie University. In 2002, he made his first short film titled Gone with the Wine. The film tracks down the lives of alcoholic bittersweet characters, living in demoralizing, decrepit surroundings. He followed it with couple more short films – A Trip to the City and Liviu’s Dream. These early works received international acclaim in the short film festivals. Particularly, Liviu’s Dream gathered lot of attention and it happens to be the darkest work of the director, till date.  Starting from 2006, Mr. Corneliu Porumboiu has made four meditative feature films and one spectacular documentary The Second Game.


12:08 East of Bucharest (2006)

12:08 east of Bucharest opens with the image of a glistening Christmas tree amidst the concrete jungle in an empty Stalinist town square. It is early morning on 22 Dec. 2005. It’s the 16th anniversary of the Romanian revolution that’s supposed to have fully shattered the devious communist regime. A local TV host comes up with an idea for a talk show: “Did the people of the small town participated in the revolution? What ensues a superb dry comedy that establishes how nothing has changed. It shows how a society with feeble societal values will forever be caught in the devious cycle of history, repeating the mistakes of past. Beneath the funny layers, Mr. Porumboiu questions the relevance of a alleged glorious time-stamp when people are rendered impassive by the oppressive system. 

Police, Adjective (2009)

 The word ‘police’ are used in adjective form to either denote police procedural where mysteries are solved through detective’s ingenuity or to address a police state. In that manner, Porumboiu’s film is a procedural, but not the regular gun-pulling, adrenaline-pumping kind. What we see is a policeman following a quotidian surveillance ‘procedure’ to report back to emotionless officers in drab buildings. While a usual climatic showdown in a procedural is marked by gunfights, in Police, Adjective a superior officer uses a intimidating dictionary as the weapon; and the scene, unfurls in a static camera shot is more intense than a gunfight. The film is about the manipulative language, used to oppress and keep the people inline. The movies have offered me new, rich insights in the re-watches. Police, Adjective is my favorite among Corneliu Porumboiu’s filmography. 

When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (2013)

Despite a long title, the movie has a deceptively simple plotline: a director negotiates with his lead actress to persuade her to do nude scene. The only visible complicated knot is that the director is romantically involved with the actress. But as expected there are more layers to it and Porumboiu’s wry sense of humor stops the meta-exercise from becoming an academic lecture. The film also becomes metaliteral with a lengthy scene of an endoscopy; may be to reflect the experience of viewers who would hate the pedantic tone of narrative. Unlike the previous two films, Metabolism totally neglects a narrative form to be a clever, experimental exercise. 

The Second Game (2014)

In this documentary, director Corneliu and his father Adrian Porumboiu bond over a recorded football game which happened in Dec. 3, 1988. Adrian served as a referee for that match (played in a astounding snow-drenched field). This seemingly boring, obscure sports footage watching documentary does reveals the complex implications. The Second Game is the most experimental work among the director’s works, which could a majority of viewers to declare it tedious experience. But, I felt that this is yet another intelligent work, reviewing different things from father-son relationship to sports under communism to antique video technology.   

The Treasure aka Comoara (2015)

 The Treasure is the tale of two men searching for a supposed buried treasure in the ancestor’s abandoned house – pre-communist era loot. Corneliu Porumboiu was involved with a friend to shoot a documentary about the people who had buried their precious things when communists took over the power (communists nationalized all the properties). The story of family treasure is common urban legend in Romania. But, the documentary stopped at half-stage, the director used the subject matter for fiction.  As usual the droll humor is derived from the dry functionality of the nation’s bureaucratic and legalistic system. Simple elements like a Robin Hood story and the visual composition of a garden (where the treasure is supposed to be buried) contemplates on the unsolved problems between individual and state. 

January 11, 2017

Ixcanul [2015] – A Simple Story told through a Magnificient Film Form

Guatemalan film-maker Jayro Bustamante’s feature-film debut Ixcanul (2015) opens with a close-up shot of 17 year old indigenous girl Maria (Maria Mercedes Coroy). She lives with her parents who are low-level workers in a coffee plantation, situated on the slopes of an active volcano [Ixcanul means volcano in the dialect spoken by the indigenous Kaqchikel people of Mayan community]. Maria has strong eyes, but none of her feelings rises up to the surface of her face. But, you could sense some intense inner force. In that sense, she is pretty much like a volcano waiting to be awakened. Initially, director Bustamante observes the rituals and quotidian life of the impoverished community. The people combine their own spiritual traditions with ideals of Christianity, forming strange form of worship. The community seems to live on a different planet with none of the sophistication of urban atmosphere. There’s no electricity or running water and they have to fend off poisonous snakes in their little corn fields. The lure of American dream takes away the youngsters. In such conditions, the active volcano seems to be the least of disruptive forces for the indigenous community.

Maria and her mother Juana (Maria Telon) catches a pig, pours some rum on its mouth, and locks the pen as it is the time for mating. The nonchalant nature of Maria shows that this is just a routine activity. The pig sequence is preceded by the opening close-up shot of Maria being adorned like a bride. The mother takes the bride-to-be to make offerings to the volcano. Later, the bridegroom’s family arrives to discuss about the upcoming marriage. The husband-to-be Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo) is the coffee plantation’s foreman, who lives in the city and speaks Spanish unlike the indigenous people. The ensuing marriage discussion scene is wonderfully visualized. Maria sits at center of the dinning table, although the cacophony of voices pushes her to the background. Maria’s mother Juana is exactly the opposite when it comes to expressing her feelings. She pretty much ‘sells’ her daughter, pitching the advantage of marrying Maria (she also gives positive sexual promises). All the men in the table feel assured. It is a business deal for these workers who doesn’t have permanent roof above their heads. Only Ignacio’s mother talks about love; she asks whether Maria loves Ignacio. Maria smiles a little and that’s taken as a confirmation.

Gradually, we witness Maria’s desires. She may not have had a thing to say in the dining table. But her body urges her to change things. The things existing and happening around Maria are shown to have link with her. For example, she sees herself in the pig-mating ritual. The scorching emotions make her feel like a volcano. She also rubs her vagina against a tree trunk. It’s such a strange scene which makes you wonder whether it is just to depict the girl’s burgeoning sexuality. Maria dreams of escaping to United States with a reckless young worker Pepe (Marvin Convoy). In order to form a strong bond with Pepe (whom she really loves) so as to take her to the United States, Maria offers herself. When Pepe takes off her virginity the camera hitches close to Maria’s face which is filled more with pain. The pleasure she found while rubbing against the tree trunk is absent. That’s the central irony of the tale at that point: the comfort a land gives couldn’t be given by the humans in Maria’s life. However, it all changes sooner when Maria gets pregnant. Pepe leaves her. Ignacio returns from the city and Maria’s father tells him the truth. Mother Juana incredibly changes; her maternal nature preceding the family’s economic welfare. She protects Maria in myriad ways. Amidst all the accompanied tragedy, the strong love between mother and daughter shines through.

Winner of Silver Bear (at 2015 Berlin Film Festival), Ixcanul is a tale of unbridled maternal love. It elegantly observes the contradiction that forces Juana to succumb to the community’s rules, while also striving to fiercely protect her daughter. The initial scenes of Juana offering her daughter’s body is later substituted with humane scenes of mother shielding the daughter and the life inside her body. The human warmth could be palpably felt in the bathhouse scenes. In fact, the visual compositions of the naked bodies in those scenes perfectly zeroes-in on the underlying love between mother and daughter. Director Bustamante’s framing of the rugged landscape were flawless. Yet the marvelous quality of the film comes from the director’s distinct framing of the bodies and character’s face (Dop Luis Armando Arteaga). It lends an intense emotional weight to the proceedings. Bustamante starts with a fluid visual style, marked by lot of static shots. He gradually builds it to a crescendo and extracts enough tension when situation forces the family to move through the bustling urban roads. While we keep a certain distance in the opening portions, the frenetic camera movements pulls us deep into the action.

Ixcanul has a very familiar story. The script is drained of any big dramatic moments. The writer/director doesn’t want to forcefully dwell on subjects that agonizes the indigenous community. Bustamante grew up in a similar farming community and so he allows the people of community to tell their own story. His view is that of an insider; not of a noble outsider. It allows Bustamante to not establish a contrived message about the oppression of indigenous community. He is intent on providing a window for the viewers to look into a way of life. Even when the narrative turns to address the bureaucratic apathy against the indigenous community, the director doesn’t bring in artificial emotions. A typical melodrama based on the same subject would get closer in the dramatic reveals. Here the camera is hitched at a long distance when Maria’s father tells about his daughter’s pregnancy to Ignacio. In the long shot, the only clear movement is that of a horse stomping its feet, which subtly expresses Ignacio’s state of mind.

Ixcanul isn’t entirely devoid of a lamenting tone. The beauty is in how it’s expressed formally. Nothing works for the community, as they are caught in cycle of misery and poverty. Neither the volcanic god nor the shamans could bestow a little sense of hope. The charm of the distance land like US casts out Maria, but none of the spells could cast out the snakes defiling the fields. Even the practical solution of chemical repellent for the snakes doesn’t work. Such little elements ponder over the helplessness of the people. And, the venom of a creature in the nature seems to be less poisonous when compared to the venom in the heart of people manipulating the language barriers. Their powerlessness is approached clearly in the third act, unfurling in the tightly framed bureaucratic offices. Director Bustamante takes up a big, national scandal towards the end without a tinge of sensationalism. Since the bond between Juana and Maria is robustly realized through the nuanced film-form, these additional layers are elegantly placed upon it. It would be incorrect to call the imperious presence of Maria Mercedes and Maria Telon as acting performances. Telon as worried mother Juana tears our heart in the ‘truck sequence’. Both the actors playing mother & daughter are theater artists. Maria Mercedes Coroy does street shows, advocating for women’s rights and human rights. She doesn’t bring many emotions to her face. Yet, we are able to feel her inner pain just through the formidable presence.    



Ixcanul (91 minutes) is a thoroughly engrossing and beautifully shot film about the unconditional love of a mother. It’s also an artful, sensitive examination of the painful existence of exploited ethnic community. 



January 7, 2017

How Movies like Visaranai Changes our Perception about the System & Authority

It is naive to believe that few sensible films could uproot societal ills. However, movies do possess the power to impact our mind. It offers a better, humanistic perspective on some of our prejudiced, bigoted, and under-developed ideals. It may not be the only ingredient for change in the society, although it can be a one of the catalysts. I love how good films brings over a paradigm shift. The term 'paradigm shift' was first coined by American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn. Paradigm shift indicates how the basic, small changes in the scientific experiments or thinking process, which deviates from prevailing framework, could lead to real scientific revolution. For example, the telescope Galileo used 400 years ago changed human’s perception of universe and their place in it. This revolutionary device validated the incendiary theory of Copernicus that Earth orbits the sun. Paradigm shifts can be perceived in the society too; on how people’s views profoundly change over a particular period of time. Cinema or any other art form could be one of the initiators of paradigm shifts in the society.

In the last hundred years, there have been numerous films that have caused a shift in public perception, for good or bad. While documentaries have always intimately explored truths, the lifelike characters in movies tend to weave a strong influence on the mass audiences. In that way, I am fascinated by how the hard-hitting events in the recent Tamil movie Visaranai aka Interrogation (2016) have provided substance to our increasing doubts about the functioning of authority and the bureaucratic system. In 1991 when Oliver Stone’s JFK was released, many critics, journalists and historians berated that the film doesn’t have a single shred of truth. Stone’s firebrand film-making style blended in numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy (on Nov. 22, 1963) to give the semblance of a factual truth. In fact, many of the explosive information provided in the movie aren’t backed up by any evidence. Some characters were invented to only confirm Oliver Stone’s views of what might have happened behind JFK's assassination.  From a film-making perspective, JFK (1991) was often hailed for its technique. Stone’s frenetic editing style and shot selections are just revolutionary. But apart from marveling at the technique, JFK must also be seen for how it highlights a very important truth, hidden beneath all those hearsay accounts.

Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison in JFK's famous courtroom sequence

It’s better to read a good history book for learning the events that led to JFK’s assassination. However, if you want to see a film that truly reflected the doubts of millions of Americans about their government, then you must watch JFK. It brilliantly showcases how far a so-called democratic government can go to withhold the ideals of few authorities at the top. Oliver Stone vividly realizes the non-factual scenario that we think of it as a plausible thing. Movies like JFK gives shape to our inherent fear and uncertainty about the government system, which naturally adds fuel to a possible paradigm shift. It provides a stage to bring out our opinions. In JFK, Kevin Costner’s character quotes author Edward Abbey’s immortal words “A Patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government”. And, It has always become a necessity in the contemporary society to possess a fair (or even more) amount of doubt on those holding positions in the higher echelons of our 'democratic' governments. 

Vetrimaran’s Visaranai (aka Interrogation) was one of the best Indian movies of 2016. It was screened at  Venice Film Festival (in 2015) and won ‘Cinema for Human Rights’ Award from Amnesty International, Italy. It also won three National Awards and became India’s official selection for the Oscars. The film, partially based on auto-driver turned writer Mr.  Chandrakumar’s memoir ‘Lock-Up’, tells the horrible turn of fate for four downtrodden, homeless Tamil laborers. Mr. Chandrakumar who was once a migrant laborer got arrested without any charges. He and his friends were held and tortured to accept a crime they didn’t commit. The author vividly details his excruciating experience. The memoir talks of the migrant workers’ vulnerable situation, who become an easy prey for the system which misses out to catch the real perpetrators. The language problem unique to a nation like India escalates the hopeless case of those caught migrant workers. It has become a routine thing for Andhra Police to arrest downtrodden Tamil men to be booked under the charges of smuggling redwood. Since the intricate, smuggling network includes bigwigs from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, not much voice is raised from the official circles.

Mr. Chandrakumar (pic courtesy: bfirst.in)

Visaranai opens on a cold dawn in a public park. It is the place of rest for the four Tami laborers (Pandi, Murugan, Afsal, and Kumar), working in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur. Soon, they get arrested by local police on suspicion that they are connected with a burglary (happened in higher official’s house; one of the burglars is said to have talked in Tamil). The inspector surely knows that the four Tamil workers didn’t commit the crime. Alas, they play the good cop-bad cop routine to make them accept the crime, since there isn’t enough time to capture the real ones. Vetrimaran’s aesthetic choices aren’t what you call as a cinematic achievement, but it efficiently draws us into the shoes of four tortured souls. Chandra Kumar’s story ends up with the movie’s first-half. The entire second-half (signaled by Kumar’s absence), which takes place inside a Tamil Nadu police station, is based on the various behind-the-screen accounts of supposed political killings.  While the first-half explored how authority works on grass-roots level, the second-half was about devious nature of authority exercised in a wider arena. The innocent workers realize that to escape from spider’s web they have only entered into lion’s den. Unlike in the regular Tamil/Indian cinema, the creaky system survives. The film ends with a hard-hitting note of how an easily digestible version of the complex events is provided for the general public.

It is not exactly a novel thing in movies to portray government or a system as lackluster element. For decades, Tamil movies have portrayed politicians, police, and bureaucrats as the most corrupted, baddest apples of our society. But the problem with all those main-stream Tamil films is that it repeatedly proposes the idea of how the society would fare better if those few ‘bad apples’ are destroyed or casted out. Our films tend to see the ‘system’ as giant vehicle run by possibly bad guy. Visaranai envisions the corrupted ‘system’ as this giant machine, where each individual is a cog. When the system’s balance is threatened it sacrifices few human cogs, but it keeps on running, spreading the apathy, fear and corruption. It’s a very scary vision. It confirms to the general view of ‘better to sacrifice few to save many’. But, in a degraded system or government, the ‘few’ is represented by innocent, good people and the ‘many’ comprises of people who violates environment and human rights for their livelihood.

From the alleged suicide of DSP Vishnupriya to Swathi murder case and the alleged suicide of the case’s only suspect Ram Kumar to even the death of Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister, the official version of events have been repeatedly scrutinized in the public forum. The authorities are no more trying to be a magician hiding their tricks. They are well aware of what people think about their trumped-up versions. Yet, they don't care. Why? May be because the system increasingly show its iron-hand only against the civilly disobedient patriots. It would be futile to state that Visaranai has single-handedly made us doubt anything said by the system. Yet, the closer-to-reality situations reflected in films like Visaranai can push us towards a total paradigm shift. We no longer believe in media, the fourth, powerful pillar of democracy. Because this fourth pillar that ought to stand alone has intermingled and bowed down to the powers that be. Now it is our alleged fifth pillar – social media & internet – is working as the watchdog for media’s biased reports. The great, corporate media houses are no more interested in truth. They can’t be interested in truth, since those media millionaires with black money source are just one court-case or one phone call away from facing jail-term or an income tax raid. In fact, only the good media houses face lot of defamation charges and death threats. In the final, blackened frame of Visaranai, the ‘encounter specialist’ tells how the media could manipulate people on how it highlights or prioritizes a particular event over the others. We can witness it first-hand by going through majority of newspaper or news headlines.

A ‘Visaranai effect’ could be seen in the increasing number of memes or in the explosive arguments circulating around the social media that questions any media report or government’s version. Even a popular magazine has drawn cartoon strips on what might have happened before the death of Chief Minister Jayalalitha. The general problem with media is how it sees everything in black-and-white, taking out the complexity of situation. It still tries to make the general public believe that a hashtag can solve farmer’s death. Of course, the media is fully aware of the endless complexities that run a debased system, but it feels ok to chuck out a simpler version. Nevertheless, we all now have a tool to express our doubts and dissent, which are failed to be expressed by majority of media. A movie like Visaranai or the lesser-seen Kirumi or even Selva Raghavan’s Pudhu Pettai gives us the framework to put forth the doubts we already have on the inner workings of politics and policing. It may open with a title card saying, ‘every character or events depicted is fictional’ although it perfectly mimics the hard realities, known by selected few.

As I mentioned earlier, we need more films like Visaranai to work as an catalyst for provoking the real ‘patriots’  to save the country from the governments. Of course, the paradigm shifts aren’t going to provide any immediate resolutions. Any how, it’s worth being aware of the apathy in our society at least to save our own humanity. The troubling question we need to ask nowadays in this age of information overload: ‘will the paradigm shifts lead to any fruitful changes in the society’; ‘or will it be ignored by the ‘system’ as just another loud noise amidst the cacophony of agonized voices?’ 

January 6, 2017

The Lure [2016] – A Shimmering, Fantastical Tale of Two Young Mermaids/Sirens

Polish film-maker Agnieszka Smoczynska’s part-humorous & part-grisly feature-film debut The Lure (aka Corki Dancingu) is an entertaining mish-mash of genre and mythology. It is a rock opera about two young mermaid sisters who lures as well as are lured. The rare kind of sisters named Golden (Michalina Olszanska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) have the characteristics of both innocent Mermaids and devious Sirens (from Greek mythology). The film opens with the trio of musicians practicing on a shore. The sisters, their head bobbing up the river water, sing a song entrancing the young man in the music family. “Help us come ashore, nothing to fear, we won’t eat you my dear” goes the song. Soon, a burlesque club owner curiously looks at the sisters who stand nude in the back room of his night club in Warsaw. ‘Like a barbie doll’ says the man examining them when observing the smooth surface where the human genitals would be. He pours water on them and their lower part of the body transforms into fishy tails. The sisters decide to set aside their inclination to eat men and take in the attractive opportunity to use their unique singing talents.

If you aren’t so engaged upon hearing the aforementioned plot elements (unfurling in the first 10-15 minutes) of The Lure, then you won’t probably like the movie. The narrative only gets more warped, slippery, yet somehow it's weirdly engaging with a catchy beat to hold everything. Although there’s no mention of the year, the setting persuasively evokes 1980s Poland, where such dance clubs really existed. The mermaid sisters are lured by the overwhelming opportunities the club life proposes. They have nearly ditched their original plan to swim to America and Silver falls in love with Mietek (Jakub Gierszal), the bass-player of aforementioned oddball musician family. Golden and Silver accompany key singer/family matriarch Krysia (Kinga Preis) to belt out enthusiastic songs, bringing in a lot of new fans. As a part of their act, the sisters jump nude into a big bowl of water, revealing their fishy tails. Although the new club life represents a kind of liberation, there’s a conflicting repressive atmosphere too. Before long the narrative turns to body horror & reinterpretation of ‘The Little Mermaid’, with the musical numbers metamorphose from punk rock to dreamy, achingly emotional ones, reflecting the sisters’ conflicted feelings.

The Lure, written by Hardkor Disco and Robert Bolesto, is not much of an allegorical presentation of the 80s Warsaw. Director Smoczynska spent a lot of time as a child in dance clubs run by her mother. Writer Bolesto was interested in the story about young girls working on dance bars of the 80s. However, bona fide musical numbers plus fair share of old mythologies drives in the narrative than the 80s Warsaw, afflicted by Communist era. There are few undertones like the mention of militia or secret service, but the historical backdrop isn’t explored even in superficial terms. It’s actually a good thing because Smoczynska wants her film to be wildly entertaining and frankly approach the ebb and flow of two young woman’s emotions. The more stress on historical backdrop would have only escalated the already erratic nature of the script. Smoczynska does a pretty good job for a first time director, exhibiting high energy in some of the grandstanding pop tunes.    

There are quite a few drawbacks with the script, which crams in all the interesting ideas even though some has no place in the narrative. There’s the confusion on what to leave out and what to jam into the story. It leads to an overly uneven tone. I mean the script stumbles a bit to choose a direction, just like the baffled young mermaids with bruised innocence. Nevertheless, the aesthetic choices kept me engaged. Director Smoczynska wonderfully dwells on the underlying emotional horror of the story. Even when everything becomes predictable in the end, the director finely explores the basic fear accompanying love and sacrifice: the idea that it won’t be recognized or reciprocated. I liked how the director uses the girls’ growing sexuality. Instead of just evoking eroticism through their constant body-shifting capabilities, Smoczynska also taps into the girls’ inner feeling of anxiety and yearning that accompanies with sexual awakening.

Of course, The Lure could face the complaint for not being more profound in its exploration of the said emotional themes. But, I feel that within the limited framework, the director has effectively studied the emotional undercurrents. The musical numbers aren’t the perfectly constructed, ambitious ones, but they are catchy and the lyrics wondrously reflect the emotions burning within. Apart from the energetic club songs, I loved the number at surgical table (opens with a grisly top-angle shot) as Silver opts to give up her fishy, lower body part. The casting of Olszanska and Mazurek is a big plus to the film. They are funny enough in acting out the campy elements and enormously poignant during the final moments. Michalina Olszanska recently gave a powerful performance as Czech mass-murdering woman in I, Olga Hepnarova. She has this wonderful eyes and smile, which alternately reflects a child-like as well as craftily mature nature. As the mermaid sisters they bring a spark, even to the sequences that aren’t so interesting. 



The mermaid myth depicted in The Lure aka Corki Dancingu (90 minutes) is bizarre, wacky, and wild in a good sense. It both follows the genre conventions of horror, musical genre and also deconstructs it with good results. It’s for those seeking cult cinemas or an erratically different movie.