Silent Twins, Watchful Eyes

I am paying attention to Agnieszka Smoczynska, and so should you. Not only is she talented, she has taken the reigns of filming the unfilmable, and my popcorn is ready for it.

The Polish director is currently in post-production of Silent Twins, with an expected release of 2022. It’s the kind of story that makes me pause and wonder – not if it can be done – but if it can be done justice on screen.

The script for this film was adapted from a book, and details the lives of two very real people: June (1963– ) and Jennifer (1963-1993) Gibbons. If you’re unfamiliar with these identical sisters, famously paraded in the press as “The Silent Twins,” I recommend reading this essay by Hilton Als. (Even if you are familiar, read because it’s brilliant).

The Gibbons sisters clung to one another, sometimes unwillingly, through an absolute tsunami of racism, neglect, and exploitation. There is a reason words like “sanitarium” and “psych ward” have a negative reputation. The history of abuse in such places in undeniable, even as improvements are continually made and horrors begrudgingly acknowledged.

The word “twin” has a reputation as well – a mythology. As a twin, I’m aware of the rumors. Are we telepathic? Would I just know if she died? One otherwise forgettable man even asked me, “No offense, but how does it feel to have half a soul?”

The truth is that many of us have twins, biologically by happenstance or experientially by circumstance. And whether you want to call it folie et deux or just an enviable connection, some people are suspicious of twins. With that insider language and those knowing glances, other people can feel tenaciously excluded. And since when has feeling uninvited ever made anyone all warm and fuzzy?

But no one ever gets invited, because that’s the rule of twins – this is a bicycle built for two.

So how will Smoczynska handle this? The bullying, the catatonia, the shuffling parade of amoral professionals? If she presents the twins as an “us VS world” story with only paranormal elements, she in some way absolves the abusers by validating their fears and designation of the twins as Other. And if she subtitles the secret language of the twins, she absolves the audience by removing them from the very society that perpetuated the abuse.

The twins were so much more than one half of the other and so much more than what was done to them. They were young artists, writers, dreamers, and had imagination to share and be shared. Smoczynska has intricate, delicate work to do. But I have optimism she can pull it off – largely thanks to another film of hers: Córki dancingu (2015).

Titled The Lure in English, this film follows the adventures of two sisters living in 1980s Warsaw. They’re groomed into a cabaret where they sing, dance, strip, and seduce the locals. Complicating things, the sisters happen to be shapeshifting-man-eating-mermaids, and they’re as ravenous for flesh as they are for life above water. It’s a bit-bunch gory, but the practical effects are impressive. Also, it’s a musical.

Also, it totally WORKS. That such a bonkers “two mermaids walk into a bar” plot excels on any level besides camp is thanks to Smoczynska’s smooth directorial hand. So I’m watching out for this impossible film of hers next year, and you should too. Let’s hope she rocks it.