I had high expectations to the new film by Elvira Niewiera and Piotr Rosolowski. I liked their ”Domino Effect”, link to the review below, and I have followed ”The Prince and the Dybbuk” through a read of the treatment and I attended a clip presentation at the Krakow Film Festival. The expectations became even higher, when it was picked for the festival in Venice and won a big award. Had the couple succeeded to fulfill their ambitions to make a big, archive-based adventurous Film? YES they had! For me “The Prince and the Dybbuk” is a strong candidate to be the Documentary of the Year. I will tell you why in this review, but first an intro to the story. Here comes a synopsis borrowed from the catalogue of the festival in Venice:
Who was Moshe Waks really? A golden boy of cinema, cunning fraud or a man who constantly confused the illusion of film with reality? The son of a poor Jewish blacksmith from Ukraine, died in Italy as Prince Michaeł Waszyński, Hollywood producer and exiled Polish aristocrat. He made more than 50 films including cinema hits with Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale. However only one film was his true obsession—Der Dibuk (The Dybbuk)—based on an old Jewish legend, the most important and mystical Yiddish film ever made, directed by Waszyński shortly before the the outbreak of the World War II. To the american magazine “Variety” Waszyński once claimed to be fascinated with the downfall of great nations. The related imagery of pogroms and migration are the sights and images that Waszyński had so often witnessed in his life. It seems he had achieved almost everything he could possibly have wished, but something seemed to be stalking him, leaving him permanently restless. Waszyński kept searching for the lost print of his film Der Dibuk (The Dybbuk), which held his early memories of the jewish shtetl and his first love. What secrets did he keep hidden in this old masterpiece of Yiddish cinema?
An Elegant Man
Take a look at the photo above. Prince Waszyński smoking a cigarette, In his palazzo. An elegant man. Like a character in a film by Luchino Visconti – I wonder if the two met each other in Rome? I want to ask the directors, when I meet them. ”A very kind and gentle man” is another comment that comes from the widow of American director Joseph Mankiewicz, with whom he worked. Waszyński produced ”The Fall of the Roman Empire” (directed by Anthony Mann) with Sophia Loren and a scene in the film takes the viewer to the location, where it was shot and where the colossal scenery was set up. In most scenes like that, the film lets one, who was involved on that occasion, take us back in time to describe what Waszyński did. That is the information side of the film.
His popularity at the end of his life, in Rome, is proved at the start of the film through archive footage from his funeral: cut to a man who takes us to the grave and from there to relatives of the family Dickmann, to whom he was very close. He is buried at the family’s burial place…
The Mysterious Dybbuk
… that the man is looking for. And already here up front the film delivers some small blinks of b/w material to appear at the cemetery. Cinema, the film surprises me. This is the interpretation side of the film. The director’s cinematic note of intention through material that refers to his upbringing as a Jewish kid in Kovel in Ukraine. There is wonderful archive material from Jewish life – they looked into the camera at that early film time – and there are clips from the film ”Dybbuk”, that Waszyński made in 1937. The film continuosly comes back to the Dybbuk legend and the filmmakers go to Kovel to hear if there are old people, who remember him – his dates are1904-1965. There are. And they also go to Tel Aviv to meet with people with connection to the Ukrainian village. All in all, let me put that in here, it is a film, that is researched in details. Impressive work is done.
… are in themselves brilliant pieces of literature, as they are quoted and read in Jiddish. You get the sense of a man, who wanted to forget his past, who fled from Kovel, converted to being Catholic, made films in Warsaw, became a celebrity that was often in the Polish chronicles, when a new film came out, who fled the German occupation, was in Siberia, followed the Polish soldiers, who joined the Allies in Italy, filmed the Battle of Monte Cassino and made a film called ”The Unknown Man from Monte Cassino”. A long sequence from this film shows the protagonist being unable to remember, who he is and where he comes from. A clear reference to Waszyński, and his rich but tormented life. Director’s cinematic interpretation.
Towards the End
… of the film and the story of the life of the elegant man, the word ”mythomania” is mentioned. Was he a mythomaniac, or a liar, did he know how to play his cards in life. For the latter maybe. It is indicated – he married a countess, who died very quickly after their marriage and he inherited the fortune and the palazzo. In one of the most beautiful scenes in the film, again with a brilliant editing, you see his god-daughter Michaela walking around in an empty flat, she remembers him, talks so nicely about him, there are clips from how it appeared when he lived there – the mentioned cigarette scene – he was a true aristocrat, a Prince. Who was able to set his own life en scène. The film at no point goes in the tabloid direction, it mentions that he was probably gay, and there is an interview with one of his lovers but it is kept in a tone that keeps up the dignity of the man, who kept a lot for himself. It is actually an elegant film, with superb editing and a narrative structure, where the viewer gently is taken back to the Jiddish roots of Michal Waszyński. Back to the cemetery from the beginning of the film.
The film has a fine FB page.
Will be shown at the upcoming IDFA in the Best of Fests Category.
Poland, 2017, 81 mins.
(… at the Venice International Film Festival)