To be filed under “based on a true story”: twin sisters Jennifer and June Gibbons moved with their family to Haverfordwest, Wales in 1974, while they were still in the formative years of childhood. A lack of external acceptance from their predominantly white community sent the girls’ psychological development off course, leading them into a spiral of delusion and extreme behavior ending in tragedy.
This strange, sad tale forms the basis of The Silent Twins, the latest film from Poland’s Agnieszka Smoczyńska, best known for directing the killer mermaid-stripper musical The Lure. As we can see from the trailer released online just this morning, both films blend interludes of fantasy with sobering doses of reality, as women trapped in dire situations turn inward for solace they can’t find elsewhere.
Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance portray the Gibbons sisters in adulthood (youngsters Leah Mondesir-Simmonds and Eva-Arianna Baxter handle the girlhood years of the first half) as they hit puberty with full force, finding themselves alternately thrilled and confused by adult attraction and sexuality. In their attempt to navigate a maturity increasingly alien to them, they sink deeper into a mental interiority conveyed through crinkly stop-motion interludes and the occasional Busby Berkeley-style synchronized swimming number.
Here at LWLies headquarters, we’ve been somewhat split on the film since getting an eyeful back at Cannes; your humble news aggregator was quite taken with Smoczyńska’s vision of delirium, while editor Hannah Strong was more ambivalent in her first-look review. “Despite the noble intentions of Smoczyńska and her screenwriter Andrea Seigel, The Silent Twins is a broad strokes attempt at showing the Gibbons Sisters’ lives, one that fails to represent the institutional racism and discrimination which had a profoundly damaging effect on them…”
She added: “Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance give their all as June and Jennifer, and their younger counterparts are surely stars on the rise, but the story stops short of condemning the cruelty of the system they were raised within, which feels crucial to understand why they might have retreated so much into themselves and the imaginary worlds they created together.”
Even if the general public falls along these divided lines, this could be a major entrée to mainstream awareness for Smoczyńska, probably the most exciting young director (relative to her field, at 44) working in Poland right now. Maybe now that David Bowie-soundtracked science fiction opera she was trying to get off the ground in 2017 might gain some momentum?
The Silent Twins comes to cinemas in the US on 16 September. Universal Pictures, the film’s UK distributor, has yet to set a date.
Published 13 Jul 2022
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