Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2016 7:24 pm 
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A nightmare wedding

Demon cooks up an ambitious mess of a nightmare wedding gone wrong with spectacular crowd sequences of increasing madness and a raging rainstorm outside. Marcin Wrona, tragically dead now, a suicide at 42, has created a complex film, with an uneasy groom from abroad -- playing with a fork lift, Peter (Israeli actor Itay Tiran), or Piotr or Pyton (his identity already seeming frangible), of Polish extraction but arrived from England, unearths human remains, and may be uneasy also about the rambling disheveled house his bride has inherited, where the wedding is held. During the course of the elaborately scheduled wedding party, which must go on no matter how things fall apart and how bad the weather is outside, he becomes first disturbed, then has an epileptic fit, and finally, taken into the basement, is fully possessed by a dybbuk, the uneasy spirit of a young Jewish women, from a lost population of the region, and explaining herself in Yiddish. (Without ever overdoing it, Itay Tira gives his all in this commendable performance.) And yet the party goes on, becoming wilder and more debauched as the bride's father, Zgmunt (Andrzej Grabowski), gets everyone as drunk as possible so they won't see how things have gone wrong. A doctor, a professor, and Zgmunt cannot agree on what to do. Out into the damp dawn the revelers eventually all go, scattering away.

I was reminded of two excellent recent Russian films, Zvyagintsev's Leviathan, because here as there a building featured earlier in the film is destroyed at the end; and Yury Bykov's The Fool (ND/NF 2015), because in it there is a party at which people are called upon to remedy a disaster and they delay. The difference is that these two Russian films are harsh, vivid depictions of contemporary social, political, and moral corruption, whereas in Wrona's Polish film that is only vaguely alluded to, with more reference to the past. And Demon has been identified simply as a "horror" film, though that seems reductive and inappropriate. It's about possession, corruption, and madness and it depicts a kind of mass hysteria. But its aims and focus seem a bit hard to pin down. There seems an uncertainty of tone from scene to scene, but the blending of the comical with the horrible is not unwelcome and seems worthy of Poe, as in his remarkable short story, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether."

Things don't go quite right at the outset of Demon. Neither Itay Tiran, as the groom, nor Agnieszka Zulewska as Zaneta, the bride, is as appealing as one would like, and they're not as strongly established as characters as they should be. It's much more an ensemble piece from the start. A friend said this reminded him of a Chekhov play, and it does seem Chekhov gone mad, with a crowd massing behind the few isolated, ineffectual central characters. This is adapted, freely with an elaborate mise-en-scène whose richness makes one sad that we'll see no more from Wrone, by him with Pawel Maslona from the 2008 play Adherence by Piotr Rowicki.

Demon, 94 mins., in Polish, English, and Yiddish, debuted at Gdynia Sept. 2015 and shortly thereafter at Toronto (where it was reviewed for Variety by Joe Leyden); other festivals. Winner of Best Horror Feature at Fantastic Fest. An Orchard release. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films, where it shows 26 Mar. 2016.

US theatrical release began Fri., 9 September 2016.


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