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Myth Of The Dubbyk Gets New Take in ‘Demon’

Itay Tiran plays Piotr, a man who gets possessed by a dybbuk in

Credit: Orchid Films

Above: Itay Tiran plays Piotr, a man who gets possessed by a dybbuk in "Demon."

In Jewish mythology a dybbuk is a dislocated soul of someone long dead that maliciously seeks a living person to possess. The Polish film "Demon" (opening Sept. 30 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) looks at the old folk tale in a new light.

Companion viewing

"The Dybbuk" (1937)

"A Serious Man" (2009)

"The Possession" (2012)

In Jewish mythology a dybbuk is a dislocated soul of someone long dead that maliciously seeks a living person to possess. The Polish film "Demon" (opening Sept. 30 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) looks at the old folk tale in a new light.

"Demon" opens as Piotr "Python" (Itay Tiran) arrives in Poland to marry Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), a woman he fell in love with online. He moves into a big old house that his in-laws are giving to the couple, but as he clears dead trees from the land, he uncovers a skeleton. That's unnerving no matter what the circumstances are but on the day before a wedding, it can't be a good omen.

On the morning of his wedding, Piotr can't be found and when he's finally located, he doesn't seem himself. He's distracted, he doesn't feel well, and he can't seem to clean the dirt from under his nails. When his friend who's also the bride's brother makes an innocent toast about how the old Python is dead, it unnerves the groom. During the course of the wedding party, Piotr's condition worsens and it becomes harder and harder for the family to hide the fact that something is wrong.

Filmmaker Marcin Wrona committed suicide after making the film and perhaps it was his attempt to exorcise his own personal demons. He creates a story about darkness taking over a man's soul and possessing his body until there seems to be nothing left of Piotr. In his place is a young woman named Hana. Part of the myth of the dybbuk is that it is a dead entity that takes over a living person in order to continue what death interrupted. And Hana has some unfinished business with the people in the town.

The film works as both a classic tale of possession as well as a story about repressed cultural guilt in Poland regarding the Holocaust. A tipsy doctor explains, "In the old days, mad men used to talk to ghosts but no one was ever afraid of them. Until later then they started to treat them as lepers." Knowing that Wrona committed suicide makes you wonder what he might have been gong through in his own life.

But the film also works as a commentary on repressed memory and what happens when a person or a country ignores or buries secrets from the past. In the case of "Demon," the suggestion is that dead things like dark secrets have a way of rising to the surface.

One of the chief assets of the film is Itay Tiran. As Piotr he transforms from a happy groom to a young woman whose connection to the town seems hidden. What's impressive about the performance is that he transforms himself with no CGI and just a little make up effects. His voice changes as does his whole physical being. That's creepy.

"Demon" (in Polish andYiddish with English subtitles) is a swift, elegant film about something dark and harrowing resurfacing from the past to cause havoc in the present.

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