In the final set of reviews from the 15th Glasgow Film Festival, film critic Scott Wilson watches Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s second movie, a story of twin sisters left alone for the summer which lacked sincerity, and a film school project about pregnancy
Fugue – ★★★☆☆
What do you do when your debut feature film was a gothic musical about two murderous mermaids infiltrating a cabaret bar looking for humans to feed on? Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyńska made one of the decade’s most unique films in The Lure, a playful and sinister fairytale filled with fishy prosthetics and europop bangers. But where do you go from there?
With Fugue, the answer is in subverting expectations while knowing they’re hanging over her.
Alicja shows up out of nowhere with no idea where she belongs. A public appeal helps, her husband sees her on TV and calls in to let her know who she is. They have been married 23 years, though their marriage was unhappy. He reintroduces himself, and he reintroduces Alicja – whose real name is Kinga – to their son.
The precedent set by The Lure clouds what kind of film Fugue is. A mysterious reappearance is a fine set-up to another macabre fantasy, but it could also be as simple as what it is: an amnesia story.
Alicja is a frustrating individual, back in the family home but with no conscious reason to be there. At times it’s like watching an imposter imagine herself as a part of the unit, more so than of a mother and a wife trying to remember.
There’s a tonal familiarity with Yorgos Lanthimos occasionally, with a dance sequence that’s either impressively committed or awkwardly silly. But that’s a remnant of the film Fugue might have been rather than what it is.
And what it is isn’t is as impressive or as bonkers as The Lure. It’s a moody and cold film when The Lure were electric and vibrant. There doesn’t have to be a point, but as an impressionistic look at isolation and apathy, it falls flat.
Still, Smoczyńska is an exciting director who has the right kind of support. The amount of production companies listed at the beginning became comically long, the Polish film scene hardly as equipped as Hollywood. It’s always better to see someone try and not quite hit the mark than not try at all, and Fugue comes under the former category.
Metal Heart – ★★☆☆☆
The story of bickering twin sisters feels like familiar territory. Emma is a goth, Chantal is a preppy blogger, and they have nothing to say to each other. Left alone for the Summer, they’re left to put up with one another through injuries, job applications, and boys.
It works best when toying with the audience’s perceptions of the characters. Emma, the protagonist, is petulant, and her sniffiness towards Chantal’s lifestyle is unfounded, if sibling-like. Rather than focus on a tortured and misunderstood teenager, instead the film follows an opportunistic girl who only cares for herself. Chantal quips, “Just because you’re miserable, doesn’t mean you’re interesting,” and there’s a truth to this, which is a problem when she’s referring to the main character.
Looking like the lead singer of Pale Waves, Emma falls in with a middle aged, ex-rocker. He’s got that maturity and sense of security to him that’s alluring to misunderstood youths, and he knows it. That he’s toxic is obvious to everyone from a mile away, except Emma, who thinks someone finally gets her.
Its message of siblinghood and believing in yourself never hits the mark. Thankfully there are no genuine revelations-via-makeover scenes. There’s a messiness to the whole thing, with Emma becoming a bit too unlikable, a frankly bizarre subplot with Chantal nursing an aging neighbour, and caricatures as supporting characters.
Despite what he’s reduced to, Chantal’s boyfriend, Alan, is the standout. An absolute idiot, Aaron Heffernan’s comedic timing is pitch perfect, providing all the film’s colour and standout moments.
What ought to have been a sweet look at female friendship as siblings, or how looks versus personality sadly play a huge part in adolescent life, Metal Heart has so little of the edginess of metal or sincerity of the heart. What works is too safe, what doesn’t work is too muddled, and it’s a good thing Heffernan’s there to keep the smiles coming whenever he shows up.
Love Movie – ★★★☆☆
The second of my film festival pics with significant events around pregnancy, Love Movie is slightly mad and anarchic. One of a handful of submissions to the festival done the old-fashioned way, it’s a film school project, as confident as anything else on display and bursting with imaginative storytelling.
Ira and Lenz meet by the fire at a party. Before long, they’re together. Lenz is young and naïve, prone to bickering in the face of Ira’s aloofness. More often than not, they complement each other, their frustrations ending happily with reconciliation not long after.
They’re a young couple, but not so young that the big questions elude them. Ira wants a child and knows her youth won’t last forever. Lenz doesn’t know what he wants, often panicking or avoiding the subject, protesting ever having to take Ira to meet his father, refusing to meet Ira on her level.
Peppered throughout the film are hallucinations of male figures from the war in the Middle East, the Costa Concordia, and MH370. Like hapless spirit guides, they appear, often unhelpfully, often to reaffirm the notion that people do not know what they are doing.
So there’s a kind of joy to Love Movie’s emotional peaks and troughs. The ending feels like a shrug, as if to say, why not? It could have gone either way, so why not this way? Whether it will ever find distribution outside of Germany is another matter, but if this is a film school project with the tightest of budgets, the cast and crew have a lot to be proud of.