San Sebastian 2019 Review: The Other Lamb

By Kaleem Aftab / CINEUROPA



Malgorzata Szumowska's first English-language film has rich rewards for

those willing to uncover the cult. 


The Other Lamb tackles patriarchy in an inventive and

thoughtful manner, giving the viewer space to draw their own conclusions. The

drama revolving around a cult, called the Flock, is playing in competition at

the San Sebastián Film Festival and the London Film Festival, following its world premiere as a

Special Presentation at the Toronto Film Festival.



Polish director Malgorzata

Szumowska has built a formidable reputation making ambiguous,

open-ended films about gender power dynamics and religious moralism. The

results are purposely obtuse, designed to spark debate and question societal

norms. Elles [+] (2011) is about a

French woman (Juliette Binoche) writing neutrally about female

student prostitution. Body [+] (2015) questions

whether there is a spiritual dimension separate from the physical. And, in her

most recent film before this, Mug [+] (2018), a man has a face transplant following an

accident at the site of the world's biggest replica of Christ in Poland. This

recent output has ensured that Szumowska is a firm festival favourite.



Szumowska's first

English-language film, The Other Lamb, looks once again at the

spiritual aspect of life and takes this theme of patriarchy to the extreme.

It´s told through the wide eyes of 15-year-old Selah (rising British star Raffey

Cassidy), who has only known life as part of the Flock. It's run by

Shepherd (Michiel Huisman), who has positioned himself at the

centre of the community as God, father and husband. The Flock, for there are

only women, are either his wives or his daughters. And if you are a daughter,

such as Selah, then you will reach puberty and become a wife. What makes The

Other Lamb such an uncomfortable, challenging and excellent watch is that

it pushes the idea that this system can only work with the permission of the

women. The wives lament how the Shepherd once looked at them with the same

ogling eyes he now casts over the daughters. The sweeping, circular moves of

the camera position these wives as a coven. It's disconcerting and part of the

mixed messages sent throughout this eerie drama that is always teetering on the

edge of horror.



Taking place in the

present, the congregation make homes in the forest (shot in a beautiful Irish

landscape), and the group only move locations when the outside world

encroaches. The authorities take an interest, but they don't seem too bothered

as long as no serious crime is being committed. The relationship between these

outsiders and the system is reminiscent of that explored by Debra Granik in the

underrated Leave No Trace. Shepherd only needs to say that the women

will be taken from him in order for them to adhere. There is symbolism

everywhere, even in a Barbie doll left on a windowsill.



Selah is seen as unique, as

she is the daughter of a mysterious mother figure who is continually talked of

in mythic terms. There are hints of an invisible twist over the identity of her

mum. Has she died or vanished, as we are led to believe? Or could she be the

outcast bride? Eerily and bloodily portrayed by the excellent Denise

Gough, the outcast bride always speaks of the mother in a laudatory

manner and displays a maternal attitude towards Selah, so it´s definitely

possible that it could be her. There are parallels in how the Shepherd touches

both women, and in their propensity to rebel. It's a beguiling, complex movie

that is open to many interpretations.



The Other Lamb was produced by Zentropa Belgium, Umedia (Belgium), Rumble Films (USA), Subotica Productions Limited (Ireland) and Rooks Nest Entertainment (UK), with the support of Screen Ireland.

Its international sales are handled by TrustNordisk.