We had a very pleasant interview with Agnieszka Smoczyńska, director of Córki dancingu – The Lure, the movie competing in !nspired section of 16th !f Istanbul Independent Film Festival, on the details of her first feature film, how the image of sentational mermaid emerged and her inspirations.
Interview by: Halil İbrahim Sağlam, Ecem Şen
Agnieszka Smoczyńska Interview
Halil İbrahim Sağlam: The Lure is a production handling horror, musical, fantasy, psychological drama genres in a kind of mad but emotionally touching manner. Did you have any intention of establishing a balance while wandering through these different genres?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Maybe I can talk about my purpose of intertwining these genres rather than establishing a balance. In fact, at the very beginning I was thinking of making a psychological drama known in a genre which was about the story of two young girls. After a while, my friend who would later be our screenwriter at the same time asked me if I wanted to do the film with him and he talked about two girls who were very close friends. Just as, he said that they grew up somewhere like I wanted to reflect on that film. In fact, he first asked me if I wanted to make a biography about these two friends because their families were musicians like I wanted. Later on we decided to make a normal psychological drama about these two young girls. After a while one of our friends who worked with us objected to the story and we thouhgt on it, the idea that emerged was to make our characters mermaids. What this meant for us was hiding the growth story behind the mermaid metaphor which would otherwise be given directly and creating a new mask for the story. Being mermaids, out characters made it possible for us to put together two different types. The sirens sing with their magical voices, so we have a musical part and at the same time they eat human flesh, which leads us to fear. I thought for a long time on how I could combine two different genres such as musical and horror. Of course I watched Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) or Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd but my way was quite different, also you know that this is my first feature film. By following my own instincts, while our screenwriter, musician, sound designer were working together and during the process, I realized that there were intertwined two different genres, including movies music. When you are watching the movie you can clearly see that the musics contain the tension, the normality and the serenity of a tense scene in itself. So it is possible to catch these two different kinds in the music.
Ecem Şen: I am wondering whether you prefer to use the term mermaid especially for the characters in your movie, or is it a definition of siren?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Siren. I prefer the Siren. Actually we wanted to create a new mermaid concept. Of course, while we were creating the mermaid, we were inspired by Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Greek mythology. At the same time, there’s also a known image of Disney mermaid. We wanted to change the image of the beautiful, cute, and of course the bra-wearing mermaid we are used to. For example, there is no sexual organs in the mermaid image we created and this was very important to us. Also their tails are turning into legs the outside the water and their legs turn into the tail when they go into the water again. As I said, the mermaid took part in the film as a metaphor of a growing young girl for us. Our main characters are too old to be a little girl and very young to be seen as an adult woma, they are in between these two levels.
Halil İbrahim Sağlam: Considering that the Lure is your first feature film, it must have required a certain budget as it is outstanding with quality of production, visual effects and cinematography. Did you face any problems in terms of finding financial support in Poland for the film?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: In Poland, we have the Polish Film Institute, which provides us with budget from the Polish government, and they provide you with a 70% support for your total budget. This is absolutely perfect. If you make a movie, you can find 90% support , of course is not working at all the time because of some political decisions. The Lure is a movie that I know it would not be possible 10 years ago. Even today it is quite challenging but we were lucky in this. I connect a little to the awards of my previous short films. Although this was my first feature film on this track, I was able to get more budget. At the end of all these processes, our total budget was 1.3 million euros. In general, I should also indicate that 2 million euros is spent in Poland for an average film. I had to perform everything face to face. Everything from the movie music to the fish tail. Of course our producer had set a certain budget but it was not too much. And we only had one month for the shooting. This time for a musical is almost nothing. We did not even have time to shoot extra for the scenes. For this reason, we had to be really well prepared and then start. Although it was a difficult process, everybody who I worked with certainly wanted to make the film because they found the story as quite new and unique.
Ecem Şen: In order to be so prepared, you must have spent a long preparation period before the shooting.
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Actually I started to work on my own two years before the preparatory phase. Our screenwriter, our sound designer, our friend who is dealing with the visual effects part, so many people from the team come together once or twice a month and we started to work like a close group of friends. We were talking in detail about the style of movie, how the scenes should look like.
Halil İbrahim Sağlam: The film is obviously telling us a fantastic story but looking at the 80’s Warsaw, night clubs, vodka, cigarettes, broken hearts, troubled parents, first loves etc., is it possible to say that the movie carries an autobiographic elements from your own life?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Yes, I grew up in a place like this. My mom was a boss in a bar during the communism. I have certainly tried to make the film with such an image in my head. Robert told me that this should be combined with the dance. There were also dance clubs in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and in my country. You could go to dance, you could listen to music in addition to this you could watch strips, magic shows. For me at that time all of this was a like an award. So I find the story very close to myself and that’s why I chose such a theme.
Ecem Şen: The image of siren is what I like very much and it is actually the image of femme fatale engendered in a fantasy world. Still, you position one of these siren images as a character who is more naive and can give up on herself for the love she bears. What was the basic urge that led you to such a difference between these two sisters in your creative thinking process?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: It was important for us to have two separate pratagonists from the very beginning. One is called Gold, the other one is called Silver. One is older than the other one and we wanted the younger one to be in search of something. Gold is more of a fun pursuit, a human-fed character and Silver,who is younger one, is pursuing love with more naive feelings. In fact, there is a background that we wanted to create at the beginning. Silver falls in love with a man in the days ahead, Silver attracts the depths of the ocean to live together under the water with the man he loves because she didn’t realize that a person can not breathe under the water. Silver makes a promise to herself after killing her man in this way. The fairy tale name is ‘Little Mermaid’. We can say that this is an interpretation of my film in a way. If the mermaid falls in love with somebody in the fairytale, she can lose herself because she gives up being the mermaid and thus she will lose her voice. It has taken many elements from Andersens, from Homer and me. We reveal the things that we have, we mix, and we begin to produce. And the other point is that the two sisters are very important in this story because one of the siblings is trying to be a human while the other one is acting the other way around.
Halil İbrahim Sağlam: Is there a specific painting or movie that you are inspired by?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Yes, Alexandra Waliszewska. She is a Polish painter, she is a truly wonderful painter. And I requested to draw a mermaid for me. The mermaid had a huge tail in the the picture which she drew. It was very surprising to me that before I met Waliszewska’s mermaid illustrations, I used to describe the mermaid tails as normal and sexy queues, as we all know. That picture was also particularly good because the mermaid was half monster in the picture. Another reason why it is interesting is that painters have already drawn dragon queues to mermaids, because in mythology mermaids are believed to be sisters of dragons.
Ecem Şen: Really? I didn’t know that.
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Yes, Waliszewska has discussed this theme through paintings and created these modern mermaids especially for us.
Ecem Şen: When we eliminate all the differences in the movie, we have female characters, a woman who give up on herself for a man and another woman who positioned on the opposite side. Actually in social life, there are female characters who enter the domination of a man and others who can build up their own individuality. And to the contrary of the former, you confirm the strong female character who has developed her own individuality. Can we say in this respect that there is a feminist attitude of the film?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Yes, it actually depends on what you think in terms of feminism.
Ecem Şen: What is your definition of feminism?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: So I can say that my film has a feminist attitude. Not only this but also it has an animal point of view. I’m not sure do you know what i mean, but when I say animal point of view I especially mean when young girls are treated as objects. It can be feminist in this respect. If you are constantly treated like an object, you can lose yourself. In this story they all come from the water and the old man treats them the same wayas I told. Afterwards, the mermaid Golden wants to fall in love, but on the other hand she thinks she does not deserve this kid, and she knows that if she loses her tail she will lose herself. Losing it means losing your voice, losing her special thing is very important to her.
Ecem Şen: Do you have any upcoming projects that you are working on now?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Yes, I do. It is about a girl who has lost her memory and she doesn’t want to regain it. We start shooting in two days.
Ecem Şen: What is your genre this time?
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: Psychological drama. I can say a little bit of thriller and comedy.
Ecem Şen: Thank you for this enjoyable interview.
Agnieszka Smoczyńska: You are welcome.