WRITTEN BY CLARE BRUNTON
THE OTHER LAMB Q&A
The Other Lamb - London Film Festival 2019 Q&A. 11th October 2019.
Malgorzata Szumowska (Director), C.S. McMullen (Writer), actors Raffey Cassidy (Selah), Denise Gough (Sarah) and Ailbhe Cowley (Tamar).
(Comments have been mildly edited for length and clarity.)
Malgorzata, the film wasn’t from a script by yourself, and it was your first English Language film, can you talk about how the film came about?
MG - I’ve done several feature films which were dedicated to an Arthouse market and so at some point I just felt a little bit fed up with my own stories. At some point I was tired and then the script arrived to me and I really liked the subject matter. The fact that there was so many female characters and it’s controversial terms - the sexuality of a young girl, patriarchy plus religion. I grew up in a catholic country and all that mixture was very interesting to me.
Catherine, you wrote the original script, can you talk about how that came to you?
CSM - I’ve always been obsessed with cults and religion, which I don’t really define differently, they’re the same thing. I am obsessed with the things that mean people stay within power systems that are designed to disempower them. On a fractional level, as a cult leader, there are 40 people under them who could very easily physically overpower them but there are chains under you that aren’t always that visible. The kind of systems in place that I just wanted to talk about and try and dismantle.
There was a stage where it was me, Malgo and Stephanie, our other producer, behind the camera with all these women in front of us on the screen and that’s not something that happens very often.
Raffey, can you tell us how you prepared for the role of Selah?
RC - Catherine sent me one documentary which was really intimate with a cult and then I fell in to this hole of watching every single cult documentary out there. It was really interesting to see the dynamic of everyone in the sisterhood, having this relationship. It really helped that Michiel was the only male cast member so that really threw us in there.
Denise, though it seems in some ways that it’s a sort of timeless story, it’s also very timely, did it feel that way to you?
DG - I have to say for me when I read it, what I was most struck by and the reason I wanted to be a part of it was because we run the risk at the moment of being in a place where there’s victims and perpetrators only. I think as women, we never see our own complicity in keeping somebody like that in power and how we abandon each other, especially playing the part I played. This is a woman who is shunned by other women and they take the side of the man in power. I’m quite wary of the superficial sisterhood and I feel like this film, while obviously it deals with patriarchal things, I don’t want to be part of a world that paints men as evil wrong do-ers, and that the women are just victims, I don’t see any healing in that. So I wanted to be a part of a film that kind of showed us, maybe there’s a way we can take responsibility for our part in all the stuff that’s happening at the moment. Then to play a woman who is able, even though she herself is disempowered, to find it within her to pass on a message of possible emancipation for this younger woman, I thought that was really important. I wanted to get out of the narrative that all men are bad and all women are essentially kind of victims and have things done onto them, we are part of letting those things be done on to us.
Ailbhe, this was your first feature film, what was it like given that it was one where almost the entire cast was women and also being directed by someone who was Polish?
AC - Malgo was brilliant. It was really comforting on set, I think everyone just bonded very quickly. It was a big group of women who wanted to create something that was effective and we were very in tune with each other the whole time. I found that if someone had a tough day on set or whatever, a lot of people would feel it, so it was a really strong support from each other I found, especially as a first film. It was quite comforting, as it is daunting. Malgo was great, you didn’t have to overthink anything, you were there and it was real. She was very clear on what she wanted, so it wasn’t too traumatising once we got on set.
DG - I just want to say, in terms of working with someone who’s first language was not english, I have worked with directors male and female who are not english speakers who cannot get their vision across no matter how intelligent or articulate they are. Malgo just barely has to speak to get her vision across. I would artistically follow her anywhere because of how she is able to paint a picture and to not have english as her first language was so deeply impressive.
MS - I must confess I directed a movie with Juliette Binoche [Elles] in French and I don’t speak french.
DG - And Malgo knows how good she is. That’s the most exciting part, being able to work with a woman who says ‘I know what I’m doing’. It’s amazing.
This film is slightly different from your others, it’s far more hallucinatory, though there are often elements of fallacy in your work, it’s quite different in style, particularly the images are hallucinatory at times.
MS - I don’t know why, I can’t tell you. Maybe because of the script? I found that we have to stay with Raffey, with Selah our character, most of the time, a portrait of what is going on inside her mind and her dreams, her visions. It was very important to me. I found this way to tell the story the most efficient, the greatest way to tell that story was not realistic. Realistic would have been a very different movie, I think, it would be much more brutal and much more backstory, of the cult, of Shepherd, but actually I wasn’t interested in that.
Can you talk a bit about the location, it seemed quite remote, did that pose any problems to film in?
MS - The location was in the Wicklow area of Ireland and it was a huge challenge. It was very cold, it was raining all the time, we didn’t have any shelter, it was very crazy.