Polish directors are becoming my favorites to laud. Pawel Pawlikowski ‘s “Ida”, ( reviewed 2/15/15 ) and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue” (1993), and Ageniska Holland’s “Europa, Europa” ( 1990) come to mind. I carry with me Roman Polanski’s ” Rosemary’s Baby” ( 1968) as one film I never tire of seeing. Kieslowski is no longer living , and sadly, Marcin Wrona will not direct again. His suicide last year makes his last film all the more poignant. The message he leaves us is to beware of not respecting history.
For centuries before World War II, over three million Jews and their Jewish culture were part of Poland. After the War, approximately 300,000 Jewish people remained. The land is soaked with blood and this history will not be buried is “Demon”‘s main message.
Marcin Wrona has dedicated “Demon” to Edward Zebrowski, Warsaw screenwriter of the trilogy, “Three Colors: Red, White and Blue”. (Ironically, in Indianapolis, I read an obit for an Edward Zebrowski, who was president of a demolition company . The same company that took down the Claypool Hotel where Abraham Lincoln made a speech before his first inaugural.) The backhoe is a symbolic presence in this film.
A collaboration between the Israeli and the Polish film institutes, “Demon” is titled ” Dybbuk” in Israel. Based on a play in the 1950’s, Wrona and a friend rewrote the story. Here a jumble of genres works beautifully. As a viewer you will sit stunned feeling that you have lived life and that you understand your insignificance.
The film opens with romantic flute music and a backhoe. The sound director and the cinematographer are fabulous and you think of their skill as you are both scared and laughing and revering the film’s impact. In the end , “digger” becomes a character of destruction more than one of uncovering, or discovery.
We begin with the British groom Peter ( Itay Tran) be-leathered and slowly riding the ferry to the property he and his intended have been given as a wedding gift. The couple’s dream of a swimming pool and the initial dig uncovers a skeleton. We see a bone-white skull and a bizarrely frightening up and down movement in the muck.
Filmed in Southern Poland, “Demon” uses an 1860’s stone cottage as the setting. The wedding reception is held in a barn behind the house. No special effects are used. The river provides natural fog and mist. The stone farm-cottage is pummeled by rain that at times sounds like shrapnel. High- pitched bird sounds and the always present back-hoe seem to be chasing our groom.
Our main character is British. Peter is played by the Israeli actor, Itay Tran. Tran is exemplary. Here rather than playing “Hamlet” he becomes a more physical actor. His every muscle twitch is controlled, his eyes possessed, his body contorted without technology’s enhancements. The effect is scarier. His is the groom possessed.
Zaneta ( Agnieska Zulewska) his bride is enchantingly in love, and we are so sad when we see her be-leathered in her husband’s black jacket as she crosses the opposite way on the same ferry her husband came in on. Thomas’s Schuchardt plays the bride’s brother, Jasny. He teases the groom with the name ” Python”, and is blamed for his “stupid jokes” interfering with pre-nuptial bliss. His “bachelor boy, where are you? ” enhances the slow motion fun.
Among the dark symbolism, humor is still here ~ laugh-out-loud, human foibles so easy to recognize. Fellini-like crowd scenes have wedding guests in light colors pass a funereal group in contrasting black. Rituals are used to hold modernity back. Polish and Jewish folk songs help create almost dream sequences where the bride’s father ( Andrzej Grabowski) tries to dissemble that there never was a wedding, never was a groom. A shattered shot glass is attempted to be put back together. He tells his guests to “go home, sleep it off. You have been eye-witnesses to collective hallucination. I’m dreaming you, and you are dreaming me. There never was a wedding~ never a groom.” Beware of the ” butterfly effect”: if one alights, others follow.
Polish romanticism and Jewish mysticism unite to show a past that can not be forgotten. The patriarch and father-of -the -bride takes a 21 st century view and wishes to solve embarrassments by fetching more vodka. He blames his son for finding a ” fucked-up husband for your sister”. As Piotr/Peter ( Tran) writhes on the floor, father-in-law Zgmunt screams: ” he talks in German; give him a fucking injection”. This reception is not to be forgotten, just as the past is not to be.
To to try and normalize the festivities, Zgmunt tells the guests that the groom’s fits are from food poisoning. The guests stare at their plates and an exorcism is performed in the cottage bedroom. Peter speaks Yiddish now, and the wedding toast of the school teacher quoting Aristotle is forgotten. The ring is lost and the father screeches to the band: “Play something Polish !”
Again, as a viewer you will sit stunned feeling that you have lived life and that you understand your insignificance. The past has reared its dirty hands and grabs what it is promised:truth of existence. The truth that the whole country is built on corpses and that their memories will be dug -up or reburied is no longer a choice. The dybbuk will take care of business. This is a film not to be missed.