Movie Review

Mermaid tale gets lost in ‘The Lure’

Michalina Olszanska in “The Lure.”
Michalina Olszanska in “The Lure.”Janus Films/Courtesy of Janus Films

A combination of “The Little Mermaid” (1989) and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), or perhaps “La La Land” set in grimy, tacky Soviet-era Warsaw with singing, man-eating Sirens, “The Lure” by Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska shows why kooky isn’t always clever.

Maybe too much gets lost in the translation. Though the music by Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska has a beat, the lyrics seem bizarre and disjointed. And the same can be said about the narrative.

Two young mermaids, Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Gold (Michalina Olszanska), linger by a river bank listening to the Bass Player (Jakub Gierszal, who looks like a very young Christopher Walken — say around 12) singing and playing his guitar. Gold looks predatory, but Silver seems smitten. It’s a reverse of the usual myth — here the mermaid is seduced by the mortal’s song.


It proves, unsurprisingly, a fatal attraction. The Bass Player and a middle-aged couple (His parents? The relationship is unclear.) recruit the pair of mythical beings to be part of their cabaret act. On land the mermaids have human legs (but not other female attributes) and they provide backup vocals to the trio in various stages of undress. The highlight of the act is when they float in a giant fishbowl with their 10-foot-long, phallic, eely tails unfurled (they grow back when they get wet). Draw what interpretations you may.

For the mermaids, this stint in Warsaw was just supposed to be a lark en route to America. But Silver is lost in an unrequited (and anatomically problematic) attachment to the Bass Player. Gold feels left out and starts seducing customers and eating their hearts.

Then things get complicated.

Triton (Marcin Kowalczyk) shows up as a punk rocker with deep scars where his horns were. The middle-aged guy kills the two mermaids by punching them, but when they’re thrown into the river they come alive again. And what’s with the breast-feeding scene?


There is no continuity in narrative or character and it’s all shot in an elliptical, heavily stylized, gaudily lit (much of it looks like it’s shot through an algae-filmed aquarium) collage. But the message is clear: Girls, don’t trade your voice, let alone your tail, for the love of a fickle boy.

Didn’t Disney push that same moral more than 25 years ago?

★ ★


Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska. Written by Robert Bolesto. Starring Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Jakub Gierszal, Marcin Kowalczyk. At the Brattle. 92 minutes. Unrated (drinking, smoking, nudity, disco, implied interspecies intercourse). In Polish, with subtitles.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.