As Your films trace imaginary worlds that we don’t have access to on a daily basis. In “Fugue” we observe the strange state of consciousness of a woman who has forgotten who she is, in “The Lure” we are drawn into a fantasy about mermaids living among humans, in your latest film “The Silent Twins” we accompany twins who have created their own language and refused to communicate with the outside world. We can immerse ourselves in these mysterious inner worlds of the characters. It’s very absorbing.
We met Agnieszka Smoczyńska just after she returned from the 75th Cannes Film Festival, where her film “The Silent Twins” was welcomed with a standing ovation. We talk about the work on set, our impressions from the festival, and the fascinating story of the heroines of the film, which has Dr Irena Eris as one of its partners.
Yes, I think that’s a good interpretation. In “Fugue”, “The Lure” and “The Silent Twins” there are spaces that we don’t have access to every day. It’s like an attempt to look into them, understand them and get to know them. A variation on what it would be like to be in that world. That is why these films can be appealing to the audience, but they are also appealing to us as filmmakers, I mean myself, Kuba Kijowski, Jagna Dobesz, Zuza Wrońska and Marcin Macuk, Kaja Kołodziejczyk, Kasia Lewińska, Marcin Lenarczyk, Basia Rupik, Agnieszka Glińska, our producer Klaudia Śmiej-Rostworowska, and the rest of the crew who worked on the film. We immerse ourselves in something that is unknown to us, but in a way that is interesting to explore. You have to work on a film for a few years, so the subject has to be broad enough to provide stimuli and space for exploration for several years.
What is important in “The Silent Twins” is the way of transitioning into this mysterious world the sisters have created for themselves. The attempt to capture the moment of transgression.
This was played out in such a way that the colors and music change and visual elements that we have seen somewhere in previous scenes appear. The twins, played by Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance, were writers. They wrote, they told stories. June Gibbon’s book, “Pepsi-cola addict”, was even published. So we established the moment of transition into their intimate, invented world – the word. What attracted me the most in this story was the clash of two worlds, the imagined one, with the written one, in a sense already dressed in words, thoughts, and also in imagination. Inspired by the stories written by the sisters, we used stop-motion animation by Basia Rubik. She used dolls that the sisters used to play with as little girls. They invented various, sometimes absurd stories about them in the Tim Burton style.
What is shocking in the Gibbons sisters’ relationship is the juxtaposition of incredible vulnerability and, on the other hand, violence, because they too were aggressive towards each other.
Yes, the sisters were as if merged into one, with no boundaries between them as there usually are between siblings. I know these boundaries between twins are sometimes relaxed, but they didn’t have them at all and were sometimes cruel to each other. Throughout their lives, they tried to keep each other apart. To some extent, this can be taken as a metaphor for a relationship. A very close relationship that is empowering but also very limiting.
How was it working with the children on set?
It was quite challenging because we were working on the film during the pandemic. Some of the test shooting and casting had to take place online and then we had very limited access to each other. I invited director Norah McgGettingan to work with us. There was also a choreographer on set, Kaja Kołodziejczyk, who worked on the movements because the Gibbons twins acted very synchronized as if they had one breath and one body connected by an invisible thread. That’s why in the process of working on their characters, we always worked together so that the actresses felt like they were one. The very young actresses, Leah Mondesir-Simmond and Eva-Arianna Baxter were amazing and very focused. We went deep into some scenes and there were really magical moments.
Throughout their lives, twins tried to keep each other apart. To some extent, this can be taken as a metaphor for a relationship. A very close relationship that is empowering but also very limiting.
To what extent can a director precisely plan the effect he or she wants to achieve? Is it possible to keep this concept unchanged, despite so many factors that come into play on set?
I have a wide margin for the fact that creating a film is a process, that all its elements keep coming together even during the shooting. They complement each other, and sometimes completely change what I had previously envisioned. I love those moments when I have to confront what I have already thought out with the new. Of course, we create detailed documentation beforehand and made storyboards, which means we draw the most difficult scenes, but the moment we enter the set, when the actors and costumes are already there, a space appears which cannot be predicted one hundred percent. You also have to remember that the director has a specific number of shooting days at his or her disposal. I usually have very little time on the set, but I always leave myself a wicket and the right to make decisions, because it is what makes the story probable, true. It is different only in the case of musical scenes, which must follow the rhythm and formally fit perfectly into a specific framework.
What elements help you stick to the set goal?
When I’m working on a script, I look for places where we’re going to shoot and usually some of them evoke some emotion in me and some remain completely indifferent. I always try to choose the ones that move me. The location also dictates the staging and movements of the actors, the costumes, and the way we tell the story. All these factors have a great influence on each other, but if I have clear guidelines and directions, then it is certainly easier for me.
Do you rely on your intuition?
I remember when I made my first shorts, we felt like we didn’t really know what we were doing. I didn’t know yet if my intuition was important and how important it was. Anyway, I’m still learning to operate it. Now I’m getting more and more tools to realize my vision, but that doesn’t mean it is easier to implement. Maybe sometimes in terms of technique, but in terms of what you want to achieve – not always.
In “The Silent Twins” did you say everything you wanted to say?
Of course I have these thoughts that I could change some things and try to tell the story differently, but then it would take forever to make one film!
I always leave myself a wicket and the right to make decisions, because it is what makes the story probable, true.
Where is the story set?
Partly in Wales in Haverfordwest in the 70s and 80s, and then the third part is set in England. Almost all of it was filmed in Poland, most of it in Upper Silesia which was a great imitation of Wales. We were able to find great locations and reflect its character. Poland is a very rewarding country when it comes to choosing locations and settings, you can create very different atmospheres.
How was it for you to work on an international production?
We worked with six producers who had to make decisions together. Usually, when there are so many co-productions, there is one lead producer, but here it was different. Six people from different countries and cultures, with different approaches to filmmaking, the director, the production. But they got along great as a group and always communicated with me with one voice. For me the most important person was Klaudia, because during pre-production and shooting she was with me all the time.
How are you feeling after Cannes? “The Silent Twins” was welcomed with a standing ovation and critics are already predicting that it will be an international success.
I feel great! Meeting the Cannes audience was really special. Especially since this audience can be ruthless. If they don't like something they leave, shout, or slam the door. They have no time, they watch five films a day. The reception was amazing, and the conversations after the premiere, I really felt there that this was the most important festival in the world for arthouse cinema. There were 80,000 visitors and 4,000 journalists at the festival. I have to admit that I didn't fully realize the reach and importance of such a premiere. Plus it was the first festival after the pandemic, and getting out there beyond the online world and meeting people is invaluable. Now we can’t wait for the film to premiere in the US and Poland.Irena Eris is one of the partners of the film “The Silent Twins”. The brand supported the production by providing cosmetics used for the make-up of actresses and actors as well as by arranging for a team of make-up artists to assist the Polish crew during the 75th Cannes Film Festival. “The Silent Twins” was presented at the prestigious Un Certain Regard competition and was received with enthusiasm by the audience and critics, who hailed it as an Oscar candidate.
“The Silent Twins” is a Polish-British, English-language film directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, starring Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance. It tells the true story of twins June and Jennifer Gibbons who made a secret pact with each other in childhood. The audience witnesses how gradually the game between them dangerously pushes the boundaries. The girls had a Barbados accent and a speech impediment which made them hard to understand by their peers and loved ones. Persecuted for being different in the xenophobic Wales of the 1970s, they gradually became silent, but only to the outside world. They talked to each other all the time, using an invented language. For years they would not leave their house, playing with dolls and writing stories. Eventually, their relationship gradually became toxic for them as well.