Starring Itay Tiran. In Polish and Yiddish, with English subtitles. Rated 14A
A fistfight between the bridegroom and one of his guests is the least bad thing that happens at the wedding of Piotr (Itay Tiran) and Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska).
Much worse is the moment during a speech when a distracted Piotr refers to his bride as “Hana”, although even that pales next to his eventual and total possession by a dybbuk—in Jewish lore: a wandering, anguished soul—complete with painful physical contortions and the surprise ability to speak Yiddish (in a little-girl voice).
In Demon, Polish filmmaker Marcin Wrona revels in embarrassing his characters, all of whom fail in one way or another to confront their own lesser devils.
As Piotr’s behaviour gets weirder and more upsetting, family patriarch Zygmunt (Andrzej Grabowski) becomes increasingly bent on saving face and keeping the guests at a lavish rural ceremony buoyed with liquor and dance, while ducking behind the scenes to take things out on his harried son Jasny (Tomasz Schuchardt), who lets him.
The film’s most subtly amusing confrontation has a priest and a bibulous doctor trying to fob the problem off on each other, with the religious man insisting (or more probably hoping) that Piotr is suffering from epilepsy while the scientist eagerly blames the supernatural.
As it turns out, Hana is a real person—or was, at any rate—and is likely the source of Piotr’s possession. When the young man arrives from England to marry Zaneta in the film’s opening scenes, he promptly uncovers human remains on the grounds of the sprawling family home, and just as promptly decides to cover them up again.
The lone Jewish guest at their wedding provides a key to understanding, and allows screenwriter Pawel Maslona and director Wrona—who was the son of a real-life exorcist, and who took his own life last year at the age of 42—to make a larger point about the fate of Poland’s Jews.
It’s a theme that’s gripped other Polish filmmakers of late, notably in 2013’s Oscar-winning Ida, but this is frankly a lot more fun.