⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for language and some sexuality/nudity. In subtitled Polish and Yiddish, and English.
It’s tempting to call this “My Big Fat Haunted Polish Wedding,” but there’s much in this art house horror that’s deeper and darker than that. Piotr (Itay Tiran), a Polish emigrant called Peter in his current English homeland, returns to his old village to marry Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), whose late grandfather owned a decrepit rural estate the groom aims to remodel into a fashionable getaway. But right from the opening sequence, the story has a nail-biting nervousness that Roman Polanski would applaud. Piotr travels to the hamlet on a passenger ferry that could be crossing the River Styx.
The wedding ceremony triggers excessive boozing and misbehavior, much of it from Piotr, who hasn’t been the same since the previous day’s excavation of the grounds uncovered what might be a human skull. An uninvited guest arrives in the form of a dybbuk, a ghostly creature from Jewish folklore that sticks around after death to take the body of the living for malign purposes. It hasn’t been stage fright or vodka that had Piotr acting possessed, but a malicious spirit that’s after him for the crimes of his ancestors. Hellish World War II wasn’t that long ago in ghostly terms. As Zaneta’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) tells his daughter, finding a skull in the lawn is no big deal. “The whole country’s built on corpses.”
Carefully crafted by director Marcin Wrona, the film moves from macabre humor to somber seriousness and back again, as the wedding band is told to play louder to cover the screaming in the cellar. Tiran covers a wide swath of ground as the suddenly haunted groom, both genuinely creepy and broken in twisted comic style. Entertaining and deeply screwed up with historic horrors, this is an all-too-human ghost story that wears several bleeding hearts on its sleeve.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated (adult subjects).
An old actors’ motto says “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” In this dark dramatic turn, his first leading role in decades, Jerry Lewis proves he still has the power, physicality and timing to play both ways. He turns against type as Max, a long retired jazz pianist coping with evidence that his late, beloved wife kept a secret affair from him for 65 years.
The film follows Max’s downward emotional spiral with simplicity, limited schmaltz and bracingly honest melancholy. Just widowed at 87, he faces the new idea that he was married to a different, entirely foreign woman. It’s a strong character turn that makes the tender little film such a fascination to watch, a reminder of his work as a misanthropic late-night TV host in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy.”
Boiling with anger and joyless at the best of times, Max moves to deepened bitterness and feelings of failure. At her wake, he offers a tense confession of disappointment as a husband with his wife, Eva (Claire Bloom), a father with his son Christopher (Kevin Pollak), a grandfather to Annie (Kerry Bishé), and a performer. Despite solid work by the individual performers, the screenplay by director Daniel Noah holds its focus on Max throughout as he faces his fears and searches his memories for clues to what may have happened.
The tone wobbles here and there, especially in a clown-nose pantomime show Annie stages to cheer him up, and the quasi-supernatural climax rankles the final moments. The overall style of the film isn’t nearly as captivating as Lily Tomlin’s caustic, sarcastic showcase, “Grandma,” tailored specifically for her by writer/director Paul Weitz. Still, this soulful, nuanced performance by a long-ignored veteran should please some old Jerry Lewis fans. And possibly create some new ones.