Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Polish mermaid back-up singers


Scene from director Agnieszka Smoczynska's The Lure. Photo: Courtesy the filmmaker
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I have a vague recollection of the movie I'm about to review, and I blame the movie. It's about mermaids. Need I say more? Mermaids are famous for not existing while simultaneously having a time-immemorial hold on the minds of men and perhaps even women. Scientists like to think they've proven that mermaids are, or were, actually manatees, but the manatees, who do exist, refute the charge in an attempt to avert the extinction of their at-risk population. Thus rendered vulnerable to fake news about mermaids, we are faced in the Bay Area with the arrival of a Polish entertainment originally called Corki Dancingu, now deceptively repackaged as The Lure, opening Friday at the Roxie Theater.

The vague recollection I have of Corki Dancingu is due entirely to the pleasure I experienced while viewing it, streaming onto my laptop, in my room one block from the Pacific Ocean. The sea is always with us. Our bodies are 98% water. The call of the aquatic element is strong. Ask any of the surfers who change clothes beneath my windows on a daily basis. If they could live in the water, they would. The notion of a species half-human, half-fish, exerts an overpowering pressure on human consciousness to which I am particularly susceptible. I not only enjoyed the film, I believe it to be true. Not that I think it's a documentary, more like a dream that came to me from another dimension.

The sine qua non of enjoying fake news, or fiction, or a feature film is, of course, suspension of disbelief. This phenomenon imperceptibly took hold of my critical faculties, and if you think that makes me weak, please remember the example of Ulysses, who had himself tied to the mast so that he could hear the sirens' song yet resist diving overboard to certain briny death. I was in a state of unrelenting consent to every corkscrewing plot development thrown my way, even abrupt disruptions of "plot" to wedge in another musical number. I can't even tell you at what point the film switched genres from horror to musical to coming-of-age. These mermaids had their way with me, and I swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska, whose first feature this is, might not know exactly how to structure a coherent narrative arc spanning a reasonable 90-minute playtime, but when in the history of mermaids has the focus been on reason? All I ask is to believe. Marta Mazurek as the strawberry blonde who finds humans irresistible, and Michalina Olszanska as the smoldering brunette who goes along for the ride, are irresistible with or without their tails, baring their breasts as naturally as would you or I on a beach in the South of France. They embody mermaids for millennials.

The script is by a man, Roberto Bolesto, I discover now checking credits on IMDB, and I have to say the depiction of men in the film is simply delicious. The club owner, the lead guitar: these Polish men are so obviously working on being "men" in their rock band, in their nightclub, in their borderline sordid, second-rate, sleazy show-bizzy sort of way. Of all the places for these mermaids to land! The concept is delightful, and the realization a first-rate labor of love, talent, and artistic skill, untrammelled by big budget. The mermaids sing their hearts out, and of course they're a hit. One of them makes the mistake of wanting to be human. That's an error of evolution we can all commiserate with.


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