By Brooke Sonenreich
Before arriving to Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, Marcin Wrona’s DEMON had its Atlanta premiere at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Intrigued by Jewish mysticism, body horror and my own Polish-Jewish roots, I went into this movie with a fresh curiosity. DEMON is set in contemporary Poland, but within a small village that is still recuperating from Nazi occupation. Before attending to the characters, Wrona posits the spectator in the abandoned parts of this Polish town. Before any indication of a character being possessed, Wrona privies us to the haunting of the location with opening images of rundown, abandoned ghettos.
DEMON is a dybbuk story, and the most complex and intriguing one I have ever followed. In Jewish mysticism, if a Jewish body has not been properly buried it remains in purgatory. However, the soul can latch onto a living soul in order to carry out its business. Quite literally, the word dybbuk means to cling.
For Piotr (Israeli Jewish actor Itay Tiran) the dybbuk attaches to his soul the night before he marries Zaneta, a Polish woman whose family is still a group of strangers to Piotr. As the possession takes over his ability to speak and his overall motor skills, questions about the village and its Jewish past bubble to the surface. However, the cling of the dybbuk only strengthens and the dybbuk’s Jewishness begins seeping out of Piotr through shared memories, language, and voice.
My first viewing of DEMON was followed by the realization that it would be in a cycle of festivals before being distributed for at least another year. But I left the theater feeling haunted myself and made it to the other screenings in hopes of retaining as much of this film as possible before it was passed to the next festival. The film’s arrival at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema should not go unnoticed. It is a film that resonates months after the first viewing and, much like how the dybbuk’s hold on the spirit only strengthens, DEMON has the ability to cling to its beholder.
On the day of the film’s screening in Poland, Wrona committed suicide, and even if the film is watched in a loop, there is an unanswerable question that continues to arise: Is Piotr the only haunted subject of DEMON?
Brooke Sonenreich is a film instructor and theorist. She likes sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers and staring at a bright wall for an extended period of time, and she has somehow made that into a job.