I’ll start Andrzej Zulawski’s filmography with one of his early (and rare) films, “Diabel” [Eng. title: Devil]. This is not my favourite Zulawski film – his next feature, “L’important c’est d’aimer” certainly is. But there’s a surreal quality to this otherwise shocking film – Andrzej Zulawski is no stranger to controversy, but even by his standards it is shocking. It was promptly banned in Poland and remained so until the fall of communism – even if the film is set in the 18th century, its message is allegorical and could relate to any corrupt and cruel regime.
Cruel too is the film – depicting mindless acts of violence, debauchery, and pain. It is also highly stylised, reminiscent of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “El Topo”, and the costumes and make-up as outlandish as Federico Fellini’s “Satyricon”. Some of the dialogues come out absolute bonkers through the subtitles – I’m not sure if they’d have been any more intelligible for a Polish audience. The film nevertheless is a fascinating piece of cinema – the images are vivid and some of the scenes will stick with you long after you’ve put the DVD away. But I don’t think I’ll be watching this again any time soon – life’s depressing as it is! The compilation below is from the DVD in my Zulawski Box-set – it is not remastered – and the quality is only so so. However, if you’re looking for something challenging, confrontational, and outrageous, “Diabel” is definitely Recommended Viewing.
A man clad in black (the Devil?) makes use of the chaos when Poland is invaded by Prussia, to free political prisoner Jakub, a young nobleman and dissident of the monarchy. The man seems to know everything about Jakub, his family and friends, and persuades him to return home. He also kidnaps one of the prison nuns and forces her to accompany Jakub, who returns home only to discover his father’d just killed himself, his fiancée is now married to his best friend – she’s also pregnant by God-knows-who, his mother had been a whore since running away from home when he was little, and his sister is a nymphomaniac, ‘engaged’ to a half-brother none of them knew they had. We see Jakub growing insane as he watches his life crumble – who wouldn’t, and it is the sinister man in black who seems to appear out of nowhere to show Jakub these awful truths. He definitely seems to have a hidden agenda…