One of the worst times to be possessed by a malicious spirit is at one’s wedding, and that’s exactly what seems to happen to the groom in Marcin Wrona’s smart and gorgeous Demon, a Polish film that examines how people respond to on-going disasters and the atrocities of the past.
On the eve of his nuptials, Piotr (Itay Tiran) is doomed after he finds human remains while digging on the property he’s soon to inherit. He doesn’t tell his soon-to-be relatives about what he uncovered on their land, instead he tries to focus on his big day, which starts off great. There’s sun and dancing and even sex. But as soon as the rain starts up, it’s only a matter of time before it’s pouring down and Piotr begins to go nuts.
At first, he messes up a speech. Perhaps that can be blamed on vodka (there is, after all, an incredible amount of vodka at this wedding), but then Piotr starts seeing a ghostly-looking woman in the crowd. Before long, the groom is rambling, shaking and disrobing on the dancefloor. The antics have the bride’s family rushing to assure their guests that everything’s OK – and fetch more vodka. The dark comedy of this quest to make a party of what is obviously a time-bomb disaster is nothing short of hypnotically entertaining. The lengths to which the bride’s father goes in particular are at once absurd and weirdly understandable, given the apparent situation.
Before long, one of the guests, a rambling professor, notices that Piotr is speaking Yiddish. It’s then suggested that he’s been possessed by a dybbuk, which is a wandering, angry spirit of a dead person, according to a Jewish folklore. But even though Piotr is speaking a different language and talking as if he’s a dead woman, the film sort of suggests that possession might not be what’s going on. Perhaps, Piotr is just having a nervous breakdown? Or he’s an epileptic? Maybe he really just drank too much vodka? The mystery adds an uncertainty to the film, which is, on a sidenote, refreshingly devoid of any computerized, supernatural pyrotechnics.
A dark cloud shadows the film’s end, when daylight breaks and the bride’s father tries to tell the sloshed guests that they were all under a mass delusion. The tone is straight-up Herzogian as the guests stumble out into the true-blue morning and the groom is nowhere to be found. There’s a deep sense of loss and confusion, shame and injustice. The humor, at this point, has faded, leaving questions about how we, as humans, deal with obvious and unavoidable tragedy. On a deeper level, the film also hints at the dark past of Jewry in Poland during WWII and the atrocities committed by some Poles.
Unfortunately, there’s another dark layer to this film. The director, Wrona, was found hung in his hotel room not long after Demon debuted at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. To lose such a young talent (Wrona was just 42) is, of course, a tragedy. Yet, it’s impossible not to watch is last work without wondering what else he was trying to say in a film about a man losing his mind and disappearing. Even if the movie contains a hefty amount of dark comedy, it’s lasting impression is haunting.
Demon is playing at the Uptown Theatre.