Thursday, April 21, 2016

Vamp or Not? Demon

When I gave an Honourable Mention to the film Dybbuk it was – to a large degree – to highlight an astounding piece of cinema and a wonderful insight into a devastated culture. I did say it wasn’t really vampiric. However the inclusion of the dybbuk in Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampires opened the door for looking at the film.

To remind ourselves, Bane states: “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…” We should also note that none of the other main vampire encyclopedias list the dybbuk.

Itay Tiran as Piotr
In the earlier piece I stated, “Marcin Wrona’s film Demon, about a dybbuk, would seem to have the potential to fall more into the vampire arena”. I was therefore rather excited when I managed to get the Polish DVD of the 2015 film. It’s worth noting that the film is in Polish and some English and the Polish DVD has hardcoded Polish Subs on the English dialogue and soft English subs on the Polish dialogue. The film starts with images of a small Polish town, which has suffered much urban decay and then focuses on Piotr (Itay Tiran) on a river crossing.

future father-in-law
The barge acts as the bridge, carrying Piotr and his land rover. He makes comment about a lack of actual bridge (we later hear there had been one until it was destroyed by the Germans decades before). He hears wailing and sees a woman in the water with a paramedic trying to pull her out of the river. This incident, which bookends with a connected funeral, would seem to be a symbolic inclusion and not directly related to the plot.

Agnieszka Zulewska as Zaneta
Piotr drives to a quarry where he meets his fiancée’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) as things move forward we discover that Piotr (who comes from London) was introduced to Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) by her brother (and his friend) Jasny (Tomasz Schuchardt). They have spoken on Skype but the impression is that they haven’t met (or at least not frequently) and the wedding is planned imminently. Both her father at this point and her mother much later express doubts over the speed of the event. Zaneta wants to live in the old family house (which needs a lot of repair) and wants the reception in the adjacent barn, Piotr plans to build a summer house and even build a new bridge.

Ronaldo and the priest
Having prevented Ronaldo (Tomasz Zietek) from doing some clearing around the house, Piotr sets to work. At this point I want to highlight an issue with the film, which was there was a lack of exposition around the characters. Ronaldo might be an employee of the father-in-law, or a cousin, or a friend… we just don’t know. A throwaway line reveals he probably had a thing for Zaneta (which explains some of his behaviours) but the film does not expand or confirm this in a satisfying way.

having found the bones
Be that as it may, Piotr knocks over a tree and unearths a skeleton. He tries to ring Zaneta, drives to where she is but sees her celebrating with her bridesmaids and decides to fill the shallow grave back up. That night she rings him but their conversation is interrupted when he hears a woman laughing. He investigates, going out into the heavy rain and sees the woman kneeling ahead. He approaches and the ground of the grave is now a quagmire and he sinks. The next day (the day of the wedding) he is found in his car.

St Vitus Dance
So, it is Piotr who becomes possessed and this occurs through the wedding. His hands keep becoming muddy and his behaviour erratic. He does a speech and calls Zaneta by the name of Hana (Maria Debska) – the spirit, who he sees at the back of the hall. Eventually he ends up – during a wedding dance – holding the spirit and then has, what is thought to be, an epileptic fit. The local doctor (Adam Woronowicz) treats him but then he seems, back at the reception, to enter into some form of St Vitus Dance, fits again and then begins to speak effeminately in German and Yiddish.

Wlodzimierz Press as the teacher
As the reception goes on around them, Zaneta finds out about the skeleton and an old Jewish teacher (Wlodzimierz Press) confirms that there was a woman – years before – called Hana who was popular with all the boys, loved only one and mysteriously vanished. In conversing with her he confirms her identity as the spirit possessing Piotr. When asked why him she suggests that he was promised to her. We also hear that a dybbuk may possess someone to fulfil something from their life.

Maria Debska as Hana
This isn’t a horror film and so the lack of clarity in characters, background and what she is doing is probably more of an issue than if it had morphed into some form of hack and slash/possession-fest. The film felt slow in getting to the point (of possession) and the ending is frustratingly lacking in conclusion – there seems to be a multitude of threads to which a narrative expansion, at the very least, or closure would have been desirable. That said Itay Tiran gives a powerhouse performance as the possessed man. But is it Vamp?

possessing Piotr
There is really very little we could class as vampiric – even via the Bane quote. Piotr does suffer a nosebleed, which brings to mind the way Bane suggests a dybbuk can enter a body – but this is before the wedding dance (which would seem to be the point of possession). That said the doctor sees Hana’s hand, passing a dropped ampule from under the bed, when treating Piotr. I was interested in the fact that only the teacher and Hana were Jewish as far as we knew, the wedding was catholic (I’m guessing, Christian at the very least).

The reaction of the priest (who just wants to leave) and doctor (who is absolutely secular) are interesting but not expanded on – though the priest offers a half-hearted exorcism. There is an “overlook hotel moment” that made little contextual sense really. At the end I have to conclude that it is Not Vamp, it does have a degree of genre interest due to Bane but one wonders whether the inclusion of the dybbuk in Bane’s encyclopedia was relevant or accurate?

The imdb page is here.

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