Whether it’s being exploited for its supposed creep factor, as in Kubrick’s The Shining and Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, or mined for comedy in films like The Parent Trap, the genetic coincidence that results in two people who look—but often don’t act—the same never seems to lose its fascination for filmmakers. Expanding on this tradition, Australian director Lucy Knox was drawn to exploring the relationship between identical twins—and the moment when one breaks off from the other in an attempt to forge a separate identity. Her stylish new short film An Act of Love, which she shot on grainy 16 mm, follows a pair of identical twins named May and June, whose encounter with a stranger at a roller rink disrupts their symbiotic relationship.
With An Act of Love premiering today on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck—where it is paired with another sibling-themed gem, Carlos Saura’s Cría cuervos . . ., in this week’s Tuesday’s Short + Feature—I spoke with Knox about the process of making the movie and other explorations of sisterhood that have influenced her.
Tell me a little bit about your journey to becoming a filmmaker.
My parents are divorced, and when I was growing up my dad would pick me up from school twice a week. It’s one of those moments when you want to spend time together, but besides eating a meal there’s not a lot to do. So we went to the movies twice a week starting from when I was ten, for about a decade. It was a ritual. The cinema closest to my house played a lot of independent cinema; I think that was really where the love of it all began.
What was the process of casting and working with the twin sisters like?
This was their first time acting on-screen. We auditioned around twenty pairs of twins, and Rachael and Rebekah [Awonusi] were just so mature for their age. They came in and talked about the script in a thoughtful way that was different from most of the other teenagers. When we auditioned them, it was pretty clear they were comfortable on camera, and were really talented improvisers. They knew how to play vulnerability and emotions with a mature subtlety. We talked about the characters and the script in rehearsal, and they made a few changes to it based on what they thought their characters would do.
Can you talk about some of your filmmaking inspirations?
It’s so special to me that you’ve programmed An Act of Love with Cría cuervos . . . because that was a reference: the ideas about loss of innocence and how children are left to themselves in this adult world. Paul Rowe, who edited the film, and I actually played “Porque te vas” [a song in Cría cuervos . . .] a lot when we got tired of editing.
During the writing I looked at Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Poto and Cabengo; earlier drafts of the script had the twins speaking in idioglossia, like the twins in that film. More broadly, Louis Malle and Jane Campion were inspirations. I love the complexity of the characters that Campion writes. I’m also very into Michael Haneke.
I love that you set the film in this sleazy arcade. Could you tell me about finding it and shooting there?
Where I grew up, in the outer suburbs in Australia, we had a roller rink, and I remember being about eleven or twelve and spending a lot of time there, taking lessons. There were older kids there, around sixteen and seventeen years old—that age when there’s no real public space for you to be anymore. In the afternoons they’d dim the lights, turn the music up, and make it seem like a disco, so the teenagers felt that they were at a nightclub even while there were also young kids around learning with their parents.
That kind of awkward, stagnant space appeals to me—places that are a bit dreamy but also a bit tragic. It was important to create that kind of place where worlds intersect, so the twins could believably come into contact with the other characters in the film. When we went to recce those roller rinks they were still the same as when I was young: hot chips on the ground, young couples hanging out, a melting pot of energies. When we first walked in they were playing the NeverEnding Story soundtrack from the speakers, so it just felt right.
That song they sing in the car—Tina Arena?! The Australian friend I saw the film with in Palm Springs couldn’t stop laughing about it . . .
That’s good to hear. “Sorrento Moon” is the name of the song. Sorrento is this sort of beach town for rich people in Melbourne, and I’ve always thought the lyrics were maybe about a first love down at the beach. I liked the idea of a single parent singing it and having it mean something to them about their own romantic past, and maybe playing it a lot at home or in the car so the kids inadvertently learn it—and then it becomes something they all know, that means something new to them as a unit. I’m interested in how young girls often sing these pop songs about falling in love, way before they’re old enough to have had those experiences themselves. And we wanted the viewer to feel for June in that moment. She’s having these quite complex inner conflicts, and the scenario of being trapped in the car with your family and treated like a kid is a bit tragic and funny.
What’s next for the film and for you?
This film is screening at a few more film festivals, and I’m making a short film later this year about a toxic relationship between a mother and daughter. I’m also writing a feature based on a short documentary I made, about a man who falsifies connections to celebrities.