Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dom Sary (1984)

aka Sara's House

By chance, physician Dr. Wiktor Stefanski (Eugeniusz Kujawski) meets his friend Kamil (Miroslaw Krawczyk), who had gone missing while they were out hunting some time ago, in a club. The last few months have changed Kamil rapidly, for the once vital young man is now a pale wreck, barely able to walk.

Kamil tells Wiktor a wild story about his lover Sara Braga (later to be played by Hanna Balinska). He seems at once madly, obsessively in love with her and afraid of the power she has over him. Kamil even insinuates that it is her touch that is responsible for his state.

Wiktor believes Kamil's story to be the words of a man too ill to think clearly, but the doctor begins to change his beliefs once he has managed - not without some resistance by Sara's very sardonic factotum Julian (Zdislaw Kuzniar) and a wavering Kamil - to finesse his friend into a hospital for an examination. His colleagues can't make heads nor tails out of Kamil's state.The man's skeleton is atrophying, his organs dissolving, and the only thing they understand about Kamil's illness for sure is that he won't have to live much longer.

Kamil wants to spend the rest of his days with Sara. Wiktor, now even more fascinated and disturbed by the whole affair than before, uses the opportunity of bringing Kamil home after the examination to take a look at that strange Sara. Once he meets her, Wiktor falls for the woman as heavily as Kamil did, but his lust is soon balanced by a much clearer idea of what Sara truly is than Kamil ever had before it was too late for him. So Wiktor and Sara begin a peculiar dance of seduction and anti-seduction.

Zygmunt Lech's Dom Sary is the made-for-TV adaptation of a story by Poland's seldom translated master of the weird tale Stefan Grabinski, realized in a style that is quite typical of the dozen or so horror films I've now seen coming from behind the Iron Curtain when it still existed - slow, a bit talky, and clearly more minded towards the arthouse than the grindhouse, but never recoiling from a bit of cheap goo (goore?) and a bit of classy nudity when necessary. The existence of the latter hasn't been a problem in European (Eastern or Western) movies for some decades now anyhow; Hollywood's ever returning taboo against nudity has long been identified as the childish thing that it is (insert rant about European lawmakers' equally childish fear of pretend violence here).

The bit of nudity isn't very important to Dom Sary, though, because the film may be about someone who is more or less a variation of a succubus, but is not interested in titillation at all. Early on, Lech puts his emphasis on the ensuing duel of seduction and whatever you want to call seducing someone into not having sex though both partners crave it between Sara and Wiktor on a more philosophical level, and shows himself to be more interested in questions concerning the nature of love and its expression, the horrors and seductive beauty of the idea of giving oneself up completely, and the doubtful, ambiguous motives both Sara and Wiktor have for their actions.

Lech makes quite wonderful use of his small budget to create a very Gothic piece of cinema out of multi-coloured lights, an impressive landscape that is as emotionally ambiguous as the characters - played by the actors in a style at once abstractly stylized and heatedly intense - populating it, and a weirdly proper synthesizer and string ensemble soundtrack by Jerzy Matula.

As a whole, the movie's impression on a viewer like me willing and able to go with its slowness is that of witnessing a peculiar cross between a dream with nightmarish tendencies and a philosophical lecture that tends towards the abstract. Naturalism is clearly of no interest to Lech or his intended audience, which suits me just fine.

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