"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A modern-day adaptation of "The Dybbuk"

In honor of Yom HaShoah here in Israel, my husband and I went to see a new feature film, Demon, directed by Marcin Wrona, which presents a hard-hitting and effective story about Holocaust memory in small town Poland.  

The following review of this film is written by my husband, Ron, and myself together.

A young Jewish man comes from London to marry his sweetheart and they are going to live in the old rural homestead of her grandparents.  Their wedding day becomes a terrible nightmare when a frightening secret from the past is discovered on their property.  In a modern interpretation of the well-known play, The Dybbuk by Shalom Ansky, this secret drives the man insane.    

As the immediate family is trying to deal with the crisis, helping the man who is slowly deteriorating before their eyes, and searching for the evidence of the secret on the grounds of the house, the wedding guests are rollicking and partying in the background, getting more and more drunk and largely oblivious and uncaring when it comes to the troubles of the Jewish man. 

What is the terrible secret?  The Jewish man has found bones in the garden --  the corpse of Hannah, a Jewish teenager whose family was the previous owner of this home.  The implications about how the bride's grandfather obtained the house from Hannah's family are obvious.  The bride's father, trying to belittle the findings and trying to save the day at his daughter's wedding, says, so what if there are bones in the garden, the entire country is strewn with corpses.  When this line is stated, the viewer realizes that this is a story of the murder of Jews in their homes, and also a story of the complicity of so many Poles during the Holocaust. 

Filled with quirky characters -- the doctor, the priest, and the bride's family members -- the film provides a fascinating glimpse at how modern-day Poles are dealing with their recent past.  Some Poles prefer to continue to exist with denial of any responsibility for what happened, and therefore ignore Polish complicity with the Nazis. Other Poles appear to see the whole thing as just  one long nightmare, and they prefer the route of apathy. And others are coming to grips with their responsibility and their failure to act to protect Jews during the Shoah, and are facing their past forthrightly towards the goal of reconciling with the Jewish people who live in Poland today as well as with Jews who visit Poland from all over the world.

It was especially appropriate for us to view this film in preparation for Yom HaShoah. We in Israel face similar challenges in dealing with the period of the Holocaust. Some Jews prefer to still not talk about it, to ignore it, or to see it as one long nightmare. The majority simply follows the national customs and mark Yom HaShoah in a perfunctory manner by standing silent for two minutes during the siren that is heard all over the country on the morning of this day.  And yet others are seeking ways to find humanistic and universalistic messages that emanate from this tragic period in our history via more intimate educational and spiritual gatherings.

The film, Demon, is a Polish-Israeli co-production.  The Israeli production company is Transfax Films. 

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