‘To Dust’ played to packed theatres at the 2019 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the largest Jewish film festival in the United States.
Grief is a strange emotion and everyone deals with it differently. From co-writer/director Shawn Snyder is the film ‘To Dust.’ Shmuel (Géza Röhrig) has lost his wife to cancer. In his grief, Shmuel, a Hassidic Cantor, becomes obsessed with how his wife is decaying in her grave. It worries both his mother (played by Janet Sarrio) and his two sons (played by Leo Heiler and Sammy Volt) that he can’t let his dead wife go. Shmuel is visited nightly with nightmares where he sees his wife’s big toe turns black, the nail falling off, and then the toe splits into a rather ugly flower. He tells his Rabbi about his disturbing dream. The Rabbi thinks Shmuel needs to move on and just not think about what is happing to his wife in the ground.
Shmuel is a deeply religious man who knows that the body will decompose. His religion tells him that a portion of her soul stays with the body and the soul won’t find peace until the body goes to dust and gets absorbed by the earth. He can’t bear to think that his loving wife is in any pain. And so he goes to a funeral parlor to try to get information on how quickly she will decompose. The salesman at the parlor doesn’t give Shmuel any real information, so Shmuel goes to a local community college to talk to a biology Professor named Albert (Mathew Broderick), Albert isn’t the best teacher, mispronouncing words and rambling on to his bored students. After some confusion on why Shmuel is there, Albert finally figures out that Shmuel, who he keeps calling a Rabbi, wants to know how a corpse decomposes. The two men sit down together to look at a book on how a pig decomposes.
After that talk, Albert thinks that their interaction is now over. Little does Albert know that Shmuel has misunderstood and buys a dead pig at a butcher shop and goes out in the woods to bury it. Shmuel shows up again at Albert’s college and drags him to where the pig is buried. Albert explains that this won’t work, the pig will decompose differently because it was dead for a while and also his wife is in a casket, not directly in the ground like the pig. This is the start of a highly unusual friendship between two very different men. They will go on a journey to help Shmuel grieve for his wife and find closure.
This strange and sometimes funny film works because of the chemistry between Mathew Broderick and Géza Röhrig. The two actors work well with each other with Broderick’s Albert a sad little man with no clue (he keeps calling Shmuel a Rabbi and Shmuel keeps correcting him) and Röhrig, who’s character is angry at the world, tortured over the fact that his wife is dead but still in pain. Röhrig.gives a powerful performance as Shmuel, a complex man who just wants to be at peace. Broderick is there to provide some laughs and he does it in a wonderfully deadpan performance.
The story doesn’t shy away from some tough subjects, especially about decomposer. In fact, I will warn you when Albert talks about the pig decomposing, we see a real pig decomposing in a time-lapse film that is quite gross. This is a film about death and how both friendship and religion deal with the subject. The film uses humor to deal with life and death, sometimes pretty darkly. Shawn Snyder ’s keeps the film moving and it finds the quiet moments to explore the growing friendship between the two main characters, like when the two men go on a road trip, and Albert wakes up to see his friend saying his morning prayers.
‘To Dust’ is a beautiful film about a friendship between two very different people that probably would have never gotten together but do because of Shmuel’s obsession and Albert trying to be supportive. Albert doesn’t always say or do the right thing but he is there for Shmuel and that’s all that Shmuel needs.
To Dust Review
My Rating: Full Price
Mike’s Movie Rating System From Best to Worst
1. I Would Pay to See it Again
2. Full Price
3. Bargain Matinee
5. You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again