“The Prince and the Dybbuk” – from Moshe Waks to Prince Michael Waszyński

 

“The Prince and the Dybbuk” follows steps of the Polish film director Michał Waszyński- a man of many faces and many stories, whose life was as diverse as it was mysterious. Born in Ukrainian Kiev to a poor Jewish- Polish family, he directed over 40 pre- II World War Polish films, most notably “The Dybbuk” (1937), one of the best known Yiddish movies. During his career as a Hollywood producer, he worked with Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale and appeared in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1954 film, The Barefoot Contessa.

Directors Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosołowski had a hard task of tracking and recreating the life of a real chameleon, who was continually changing religions, homes, names, and titles, often not leaving any traces of the past life. The film visits his relatives in Tel Aviv- who have vague memories of Moshe Waks (which was his real name), and the town of his birth in Ukraine. We also stop over in Hollywood to interview his fellow producers, a Roman palace where he lived after his marriage to a wealthy countess, and Spain, where he died as Prince Michael Waszynski in 1965.
Thanks to beautiful archival footage, the film takes us into his world, giving a sense of his abundant life. One of them is the giant set of “The Fall of Roman Empire” with Sophia Loren, which was one of the most expensive Hollywood films at that time. Waszynski was the executive producer and initiator of the ancient Rome project, the biggest in the history of moviemaking.

An aristocrat, an elegant man, surrounded by an aura of luxury. That is how people remember him. He achieved everything he imagined, and he created films and sets unthinkable for many of his contemporaries. His life was cinematic. But he also never spoke about the past and his roots. There was something that was hunting him, keeping him restless. The film jumps to the archive material from “The Dybbuk” every once in a while to remind about Waszyński’s origins and uncertainties he was not able to cut loose, running away from them into other lives. “The Dybbuk” is based on a traditional Jewish legend, in which the spirit of the first love haunts a young woman. A supernatural tale with elements of expressionism, the film is a recognized masterpiece of Yiddish cinema.

With a tinge of humor, Niewiera and Rosołowski create a portrait of a fascinating life, driven by personal ambitions but also agitated by fears, society’s pressures and demands. Waszyński was relentless in pursuit of his wildest dreams, which were an escape from the past he did not want to remember and a quest for social acceptance. His great fantasy and larger than life persona form an inspiring biography that escapes any classification attempts.

The film won the Venice Classics Award for Best Documentary on Cinema at the 74th Venice Film Festival.

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