They say it’s better to fail loudly rather than succeed quietly. In this sense, “The Lure” is a total success.
Though it’s definitely no utter failure the mermaid musical is as alluring as it is disorienting. Some time in the 1980s two mermaids, Golden and Silver (Michalina Olszanska and Marta Mazurek, respectively), join up with a Polish rock band, performing as back up dancers and singers. As audiences are entranced with their personas on and off-stage, Silver falls in love with guitarist Mietek (Jakub Gierszal), while Golden craves men in a different way.
At least, that’s the primary current driving the film. Also caught in the flotsam of these two magnetic women are the shifting politics and musical tastes of 1980s Poland, a refugee parable, and some fantastic funky showstoppers.
The movie refuses to let itself be caught in just one genre net, and so it floats through a few with relative, if bizarre ease. The problem is, it’s never quite clear why they switch. The mermaids are less demure and more monstrous than the usual fantasy, but its gorier moments only splash here and there. The musical moments refuse to be caged and yet sometimes come so far out of left field it’s unclear how they relate back to the plot at hand.
Tying it altogether, in theory, is some exploration of female sexuality, but event that has blended a coming-of-age story and “The Little Mermaid” into a single perplexing medley of mythos and visual poetry.
But even as it’s far from clear, in the end it’s unclear if that matters at all. In many ways, “The Lure,” is audacious enough to defy any single critique; “The Lure” is, at the very least, deep enough to dive into the themes a bit, and though it’s message is neither coherent nor consistent, the movie never loses its flair as it jumps from beat to eccentric beat. Its genre shifts can feel abrupt, even like lines that are bizarrely dropped altogether, but the sheer ambitious mood of it all still manages to magnetic and macabre in the same breath.
The allure of “The Lure” wouldn’t be nearly quite as successful without its two leads, Olszanska and Mazurek, who realize and balance the fantastical inclinations of director Agnieszka Smoczynska with the grimey and visceral world of the film. They maintain a strange magnetism in both their acting and their singing, perhaps one of the best on-screen representations for why sailors would crash their ships on rocks after hearing mermaids sing.
If the movie were a bit less interested in splashing around where it wants, focusing itself a bit more on a message, the two women might ultimately be served better. But they seem to be having just as much fun with the bonkers world Smoczynska has brought to life as the director is, keeping some understanding of the world just below the surface where the audience can’t quite reach it.
There’s more than a few moments where “The Lure” thrashes a bit too much, tripping into an utterly bewildering art piece. But it’s more than a shallow dive that mixes sex, cannibalism, and mermaids. It may not be what anyone expects it to be, but it’s still a whale of a tale.
“The Lure” plays March 24-26 at SIFF Film Center (305 Harrison St.)