Dybbuk: The Exorcist avant la lettre

Salomon An-Ski

According to the Kabbalah, a dybbuk is the soul of a dead person that takes possession of the body of a living person. In the story ‘Tzvischen Zvei welten’ by Salomon An-ski, two best friends, Nisan and Sender, promise each other that their yet unborn children will marry each other.

Years and all kinds of complications later, the promise has long been forgotten. And when Lea, Sender’s daughter, and Chanan, Nisan’s son, fall in love with each other, things go wrong: Sender is rich and Chanan, an orphan, is poor.

As soon as Chanan hears that Lea is going to marry a rich man, he asks Satan for help. It will cost him his life but he returns as a dybbuk and his soul takes possession of the body of his beloved Lea.

Sender calls in a rabbi who, by means of incantations, forces the dybbuk to leave her body, with disastrous consequences for her.

Michal Waszynski

When Waszynski filmed the story in 1937, he could not even imagine that he was writing history. Not only does the world of An-ski no longer exist, but Waszynski’s world has never been the same since 1945.

Kazimierz Dolny, where most of the story was shot, has become an open-air museum, and the fate of the Polish Jews, including perhaps the greatest cantor of all time, Gershon Sirota, whose performances we are allowed to witness in the film, is common knowledge.

This 1937 film by Michal Waszyński is considered the best Yiddish film in the history of cinema.

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