The Other Lamb Review
Somewhere in the countryside, a man, known only as The Shepherd (Michiel Huisman), is in charge of a community, all of whom apart from him are women. They are divided into "wives” and the younger “sisters”, some of whom may or may not be his actual daughters. One of the sisters is teenaged Selah (Raffey Cassidy) whose view of what is really going on soon becomes clearer.
Małgorzata Szumowska has worked outside her native Poland before, on films like 1993's Elles, which was made in France and is mostly in the French anguage. Within Poland, her work includes In the Name of (W imię…, 2013), one of the first gay-themed films made in the country, her Berlin Silver Bear winners Body (Ciało) and Mug (Twarz), from 2015 and 2018 respectively. The Other Lamb is her first film in English. It’s something of an international affair, officially an Irish-Belgian coproduction shot in the former country (though seemingly, with a few references, set in the USA), with along with its Polish director, cinematographer (Michał Englert) and editor (Jarosław Kamiński) has an Australian screenwriter (Catherine S. McMullen) and a largely British and Irish cast, though Michiel Huisman is Dutch.
It’s pretty clear from the outset what the film’s intentions are, and the themes it intends to tackle. Inevitably, the flock’s colour-coded dress (crimson/red for wives, blue for sisters) is reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, and the film explores a similarly patriarchal society-in-miniature with there being just one “ram in the flock” and the wives and sisters’ attempts to find a place in this society. Giving birth to a child of the right gender is one way: any new potential rams are disposed of. Older wives are made to compete for the Shepherd’s attention as younger ones come of age. All this is seen through Selah’s eyes. The Shepherd’s attention is “like the sun. Glorious at first but then it just burns.”
However, although exposition – as, for example, how this cult came into being – is spare, occasionally it tips too far the wrong way, and many gaps aren’t filled in. There’s something of an arm’s-length feel to the film, though the presence of leads Raffey Cassidy (only seventeen when this was made), Huisman and Denise Gough (as an older, now marginalised wife) does help a rather underpowered script. Visually, the film is fine with Englert’s camerawork emphasising teals and greens of the rural location, with the colours of the uniforms standing out. But unfortunately The Other Lamb is a tale that has been told a few too many times before, and can’t add much, and it never really comes to life.
The Other Lamb arrives in cinemas and on MUBI October 16.