May 30, 2023
Cameron Currin, Cody Kristapovich
Michael Oilar, Clarice Lafayette, Paul D. Morgan
The Brothers Grimm are, perhaps alongside Hans Christian Andersen, the finest, most well-known storytellers of folk and fairy tales to have ever existed. The likes of ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Snow White’ have had numerous iterations (both good and outright dreadful) on both the big and small screen, yet the story of ‘The Fisherman and His Wife’ is far less well known, at least outside of Germany.
The old fairytale goes that one day a man, a fisherman, catches fish, which begs to be set free, telling him that he has the ability to grant wishes. When the fisherman’s wife hears of this she tells her husband to go back and ask the fish to grant her wish of a nice house. Naturally, as all good magical fish do, the fish obliges, but, as is often the way with these fairytales, the wife is not satisfied and demands more. The fisherman, reluctantly, keeps on returning to ask the fish, on his wife’s behalf, for ever grander wishes, until one day he asks to become equal with God. This is the straw wish breaks the fish’s back, and, fed up with human greed, he revokes all prior wishes, leaving the fisherman and his wife back where they started, impoverished in a hovel. The message is simple enough - don’t be greedy and be happy with what you’ve got, but its one that still remains pertinent, perhaps even more so, today.
‘Mandje’ picks up this story mid incessant wishing, finding the fisherman (Michael Oilar) and his wife (Clarice Lafayette) at the dinner table being served by their butler. Though the dining room is strangely hovel-esque (who knows, maybe they wanted some home comforts), they have clearly moved up in the world as a result of the fish. Writer Josh Hughes and directors Cameron Currin and Cody Kristapovich clearly outline the fisherman’s reluctance, and inability, to enjoy his newfound prosperity, walking around with a haggard, despairing look to his face, whilst his wife primitively feasts on her meal and indulges herself with wine.
This is a darker adaptation of the fairytale (which is already fairly dark for a children’s tale), including illicit affairs and double crossing in keeping with the gothic style which Currin and Kristapovich direct the film in. Black and white, with a slight yellow tint, the film is stylistically on point, at times reminiscent of old silent films such as ‘Haxan’ and ‘Faust’ in its gothic undertones, fairytale roots and use of yellow lighting against a predominantly monochrome composition. It’s a very well-directed film by Currin and Kristapovich, contemplating Josh Hughes’ melodramatic script well to further heighten the gothic style.
On the other hand, the two lead actors, Michael Oilar and Clarice Lafayette, lack chemistry, an issue when the film is essentially a two-hander. At no point do they seem a natural fit on screen together, Oilar leaning too far into his sullen demeanour whilst Lafayette overacts to the extent that her performance is wooden, creating a disconnect between the two characters not resulting from the script.
Despite this, ‘Mandje’ is a fascinating, well-constructed film that leaves you wanting more of Cameron Currin and Cody Kristapovich’s classic gothic style. Inevitably it’ll disastrously backfire, and I know it’s greedy but next time I catch a magical fish I might ask for more films like ‘Mandje’