Sunday, March 20, 2016

Honourable Mention: The Dybbuk

Before we start, the Dybbuk is not a vampire film. Hell I’m not even sure whether we can class the folklore it is based on as a type of vampirism. However the dybbuk is listed as a type of energy vampire type in Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampires. Bane says:

For the dybbuk to survive, it must gain entry into a human body. It may allow itself to be breathed in through incense or it may embed itself in a piece of food about to be eaten, but typically it will make its own way into the body, by force if necessary through the nostril, although any orifice will suffice. Once it has gained access, the dybbuk will possess the person and begin to feed off the person’s life-force, taking up residence in one of the pinky fingers or one of the toes…

This seems to be the only one of the main encyclopaedias that lists the dybbuk as a vampire type (Curran lists it in the Encyclopedia of the Undead but not in the vampire section), however the Bane inclusion gives me the excuse to feature – as something of genre interest – this astounding piece of film history. (As an aside Marcin Wrona’s film Demon, about a dybbuk, would seem to have the potential to fall more into the vampire arena but is, at time of writing, unavailable.)

Sender and Nisn
From 1937, this Polish film by Michal Waszynski was based on the play by S. Ansky and filmed in Yiddish. Hauntingly the type of Polish shtetl it depicts would soon be utterly destroyed by the evil of the Third Reich. The story sees two friends, Sender (Mojżesz Lipman) and Nisn (Gerszon Lemberger), trying to tell the Rabbi Azriel (Abraham Morewski) of the decision they had made. They are best friends but now live distantly from each other and both their wives are expecting. They have decided that – should the babies be a boy and a girl – the children will be betrothed.

the Messenger (left)
Through the film is a messenger (Ajzyk Samberg) of mystical origin (he does not age, seems to be able to vanish and appear and can travel great distances quickly) who suggests that you cannot pledge that which is unborn. Sender gets home to find that he has a daughter, Leah (played as an adolescent by Lili Liliana), but his wife has died in childbirth. Nisn is crossing a lake or river in a storm and is knocked overboard and drowns and so never meets his son, Khonnon (played as an adolescent by Leon Liebgold).

Khonnon and Sender
Cutting forward through time, Sender becomes a wealthy man and, through the actions of the messenger, meets Khonnon as the young man travels to the shtetl. Sender gives him a lift in his carriage and even invites the young man to take meals in his home – shared with his sister, his daughter and his servant. He never realises that Khonnon is his friend’s son but the two young people fall in love almost instantly. Unaware of this Sender looks to find his daughter a husband and Khonnon, who prefers the kabbalah to the Torah, turns to arcane arts to win his love. When warned by a fellow student Khonnon suggests that every sin is holiness.

calling on Satan
Sender eventually hears Leah singing a song that Khonnon taught her, which he recognises as being written by Nisn, and realises who the boy is – however he has just accepted a groom for Leah and the parents are about to arrive. On hearing that Leah is to be engaged, Khonnon calls upon Satan from the synagogue and dies. It is his spirit that is the dybbuk and he possesses Leah – by invitation, it has to be said – and disrupts the wedding. The girl is taken to Rabbi Azriel to free her from the possession.

at the wedding
The film is not a horror, it is a tragedy with a supernatural basis and the dybbuk is not the evil vampiric creature of Bane’s description but a desperate man in love. However the film is a must watch for several reasons – one being the fact that in just two years the Germans would invade Poland and the Nazis would attempt to eradicate the Jewish culture the film depicts. The wedding scene in particular is a spectacular example of expressionist cinema and the traditional Jewish singing is beautiful (the Song of Songs is sung twice in film).

I do like to bring things here of genre interest, even if the vehicle has no vampiric aspect. This one was a push but worth highlighting I think.

The imdb page is here.

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