Dybbuk, The (1937): Michał Waszyński’s Expressionist Yiddish Movie, Based on Ansky’s Famous Play

Michał Waszyński directed The Dybbuk (Yiddish: דער דיבוק, Der Dibuk; Polish: Dybuk), a Yiddish-language Polish hirror-fantasy drama, based on the acclaimed 1914 play of the same title by S. Ansky.

The Dybbuk
Dybuk1937.jpg

Original Polish release poster

The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds (Yiddish: דער דיבוק, אדער צווישן צוויי וועלטן; Der Dibuk, oder Tsvishn Tsvey Veltn) is a 1914 play by S. Ansky,

The tale centers on a young bride possessed by a dybbuk – a malicious possessing spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person – on the eve of her wedding.

A seminal play in the history of Jewish theatre, The Dybbuk played an important role in the development of Yiddish theatre and Jewish-Israeli theatre in Palestine and then Israel.

The play was based on years of research by Ansky, who traveled to Jewish shtetls in Russia and Ukraine, documenting folklore of Hassidic Jews.

The film starred Lili Liliana [de] as Leah, Leon Liebgold as Hannan (Channon, in the English-language subtitles), and Abraham Morewski [de] as Rabbi Azrael ben Hodos.

The film adds an act before those in the original play, showing the close friendship of Sender and Nisan as young men.

Besides the language, the picture is noted for the striking scene of Leah’s wedding, which is shot in German Expressionism style.

The film is generally considered one of the finest in the Yiddish language.

The Dybbuk was filmed on location in Kazimierz Dolny, Poland, and in Feniks Film Studio in Warsaw.

In the first sequence, two best friends, Nisan and Sender, living in a shtetl in the Pale of Settlement, vow that the children their wives are expecting will eventually marry, against the advice of a mysterious and sinister traveler who warns against binding the fate of future generations.

Sender’s wife dies while giving birth to their daughter Leah, and Nisan drowns in a storm when his wife gives birth to their son Chanan. Sender becomes a rich but miserly rabbi in the shtetl of Britnitz.

One day Chanan arrives there as a poor yeshiva student. Neither man is aware of their connection, and Sender offers Chanan hospitality.

Leah and Chanan fall in love, though realize that Sender will not agree to marriage because of his status. In order to improve his position, Chanan embarks on obsessively studies of the Kabbalah and attempts to practice magic.

When he hears that Sender has arranged Leah’s marriage to a rich man’s son, he calls on Satan to help him. He’s struck dead, but returns as a dybbuk, a restless spirit, who possesses Leah.

The ceremony is postponed, and Sender calls on the assistance of Ezeriel, the wise and powerful rabbi in nearby Miropol (Myropil). Ezeriel exorcises the dybbuk, but Leah offers her soul to Chanan and dies as the mysterious stranger blows out a candle.

Cast
Abraham Morewski [de] as Rabbi Ezeriel ben Hodos
Ajzyk Samberg [de] as Meszulach, the messenger
Mojżesz Lipman [pl] as Sender Brynicer ben Henie
Lili Liliana [de] as Leah – Sender’s daughter
Leon Liebgold as Chanan ben Nisan
Dina Halpern as Aunt Frade
Max Bozyk [de] (billed: Maks Bozyk) as Nute, Sender’s friend
M. Messinger as Menasze, the prospective groom
Gerszon Lemberger [pl] as Nisan ben Rifke
Samuel Bronecki (billed: S. Bronecki) as Nachman, Menasze’s father
Samuel Landau [de] as Zalman, matchmaker
Abraham Kurc [de] as Michael
Judith Berg as Dancer
Symcha Fostel [pl]
Zisze Kac [pl] as Mendel

Credits:

Directed by Michał Waszyński
Written by S. Ansky (play), S. A. Kacyzna (writer)
Produced by Zygfryd (or Zygmunt) Mayflauer
Cinematography Albert Wywerka
Edited by George Roland
Music by Henryk Kon

Release date: September 26, 1937

Running time: 125 minutes (original), 108 minutes (USA),
123 minutes (existing print)
Country Poland
Language Yiddish