That being said, the film is supposedly inspired by a series of “wet plate” photographs from the area. It seems that the filmmakers took inspiration from these images to craft a narrative that involves nascent relationships, the mental disintegration of the priest, a wrestling match and a yappy dog. I felt myself at times almost willing myself to fall for its charms, but in the end the disappointing film simply didn’t cohere enough.
No Cannes premiere hit me as poorly as Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Silent Twins.” While her 2015 film “The Lure” had a mixed reaction, I found myself swayed by its floating charm and tonal collisions, with a horror/musical element feeling weird and strange, yet above all compelling. The same quirkiness is at play with her latest film, which collides stop-motion animated sequences and other lighter touches with a truly appalling story of mental illness, bad decisions, and assault after assault.
While the ambition to tell this complex story is sure to be applauded, I found it from the opening moments be totally lost in its telling. Despite committed performances from likes of Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance there’s just so little to recommend this film, one that even taken by its own rules fails to go beyond its quirky exterior. This is a truly dark story, and the audience surely must be granted some way of not simply automatically accepting the bizarre behaviors of the protagonists without some semblance of context. It’s as if empathy is expected rather than generated, so that when the twins turn to more sociopathic behavior it’s all not to be taken too seriously.
It’s this aspect that truly undermines the work, for if we are truly to look more closely into the institutional failures and mental health challenges of these individuals, the whole enterprise feels even more voyeuristic, manipulative, and incoherent. By the time the white savior author shows up to try and rescue her subjects (or at least the talented one) it all collapses into a maudlin heap.
A far more complicated failure is “Mariupolis 2,” the final images captured by Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius. I screened his 2016 film about life in the Ukrainian city of Mariopol, and retroactively that film has become a kind of time capsule for a city that fell to Russian troops only days before I wrote this article. Back then there were tensions rising and rifts forming, but life was going on, and the filmmaker’s keen eye and perceptive attention on specific characters and locations was evident.