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Saturday, September 10, 2016
Marcin Wrona | Demon
by Douglas Messerli
Marcin Wrona (writer and director) Demon / 2015, USA 2016
Marcin Wrona’s 2015 Polish film Demon is a fiercely eccentric work using several different genres. Many critics—I believe mistakenly—have described the film as a horror or ghost tale, and certainly it does have some elements of those genres, in particular a great many skeletons rattling in the closets of the Polish landowning family at the center of this work. It is also right out of Yiddish folklore, replete with a dybbuk and possession. There are also a number of absurdist-like and very humorous elements akin to a great many of Polish short and longer fictions. But primarily it is a sophisticated political study of both the highly anti-Semitic Poland of World War II and today’s continued desire among many Poles, including their current government—who has recently outlawed references to the Holocaust “death camps” in their country—to white out Poland’s haunted past.
Living in London as a Polish émigré, the “hero” (or perhaps we should describe him as the “victim”) of this story, Piotr (wonderfully played by the Israeli actor Itay Tiran) meets the lovely fellow-countrywoman Zaneta (Agnieszka Żulewska), and quickly falls in love. She desires a traditional Polish wedding, which as Wrona’s wife, Olga Szymanska describes it, often lasts up to 4 days: “There’s much alcohol,” she wryly comments, which often results in a kind communal insanity. And in this sense, Wrona’s film shares yet another genre, that of the drunken banquet film such as Wojciech Smarzowski's The Wedding.
Although Zaneta’s parents are somewhat disturbed by the short period of their romance and by the fact that Zaneta has not chosen some “nice Polish boy”—even though Piotr is of Polish descent and speaks the language fluently, he is still considered an outsider—they nevertheless plan the huge celebration in a large barn on their crumbling estate, which they intend to pass on to the married couple.
The outwardly joyful Piotr enters this community—now primarily a territory destroyed by strip mining and built up after the war with Stalin-like housing developments—excitedly, even planning to help to reconstruct their local bridge which has been destroyed during the war (suggesting that he must work as an engineer).
The wedding is performed and the celebrants retire to the large bar to drink and dance away the night—and perhaps several days and nights after. The beautiful young couple mix with guests, including Zaneta’s brothers, one of whom had introduced the couple to each other back in London. A friendly professor Szymon Wentz (Wlodzimierz Press)—the “invited Jew”—gets up to speak, boring his now half-drunk audience with his academicism. The local priest and doctor are also in attendance.