4 January 2018 | alexdeleonfilm
The Yiddish Exorcist!
DYBBUK -- THE JEWISH EXCORCIST
In Poland today, "Dybbuk" is regarded as much a Polish film as a Jewish one and is often revived.
Michal Waszynsaki's "The Dybbuk", Poland, 1937, is probably the most widely known, if not necessarily the best liked, of all Yiddish films. Like Ulmer in America Michal Waszynski was an accomplished mainstream director with numerous non-Jewish films to his credit, but this film is considered his masterpiece even by the Poles. The prominent Warsaw writer, Alter Kacyzne, worked on the screenplay of what is easily the spookiest Yiddish movie ever made.
In the opening scene two young Hassidim, close friends, vow that if they both have children one a boy and the other a girl, these children will marry. An ominous other worldly messenger (Meshulach), who appears and disappears at will, warns that no-one has the right to vow for unborn children. Already the die is cast. One of the friends is lost in a storm rushing to the bedside of his wife who is giving birth to a boy. The wife of the other Hassid dies in childbirth leaving a girl behind. Eighteen years pass. The boy, Chonen, is now an impoverished talmudic scholar. The girl, Leah, has been adopted into a wealthy family. Chonen becomes a tutor in the same family. The two are immediately drawn to each other and fall in love but are unaware that they were promised to each other long ago. The solemn vow is broken when the girl is betrothed to another.
Chonen, versed in the arcane mysticism of the Kaballa, invokes Satan's aid but dies in the process. On Leah's wedding day Chonen's spirit enters the new bride's body as a "Dybbuk" and possesses her. To the horror of all, only his voice comes out of her mouth. The famous rabbi of Wielopole is called in to exorcise the evil spirit from the girl's body. Only when the spirit is threatened with excommunication from the Jewish community, even in the other world, will the Dybbuk leave the body of his beloved, but, when he does she too dies to join him forever in the Other World. An impressive work with many ritual set pieces, this is a one of a kind Yiddish film of The Occult. A classic originally written in Russian by the Jewish playwright S. An-Sky. "Dybbuk" has been performed in many languages on the stage and was remade as an Israeli-German film co-production in 1968. If "The Golem" is the Jewish Frankenstein the Dybbuk, rich in ancient mysticism and folklore, must surely go down in film history as the Jewish Exorcist. (The Hollywood "Exorcist" was made, incidentally, by a Jewish director, William Friedkin).
One of the things that made the film so impressive were the professionally choreographed ritual dances, and an eminent Jewish historian, Dr. Meyer Balaban, was hired to assure accuracy in the presentation of religious detail. Lili Liliana and Leon Liebgold (he, of "Yidl Mitn Fidl" and "Tevya" ) are the star crossed lovers and not long after, as if to confirm their heavenly union in the film, became man and wife offscreen in flesh and blood.
Avrom Marevsky is the Great Exorciser, and Max Bozhyk also appears, but the role that is likely to remain longest in memory is that of The Ominous Messenger as played by Isaac Samberg. Waszynski, a Ukrainian Jew whose original name was Moishe Waxman, was only 33 and Polish cinema's reigning wunderkind when he directed "The Dybbuk" in 1937. In Poland today, "Dybbuk" is regarded as much a Polish film as a Jewish one.