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« Tribeca 2018: Obey | Main | Tribeca 2018: The Night Eats the World »

Tribeca 2018: To Dust

by Jason Adams

Shmuel is a sinner. He keeps repeating that. This is a sin, this is a sin. His children are convinced he's possessed, and he kind of is. He haunts graveyards; he rows them into the middle of a lake and makes them cry. He stuffs a plastic bag over the head of a large pig and suffocates it in front of a community college science professor. Things are nuts!

Shmuel's wife has just died from cancer, see, and he's having troubles reconciling what that means. Not in the spiritual sense - Shmuel is a Hasidic man, and such things probably ought to concern him more than they do - but in a more practical sense...

Her body was there with him, and now it is in the ground. Where is she? What is she becoming? That's where the community college science professor comes in. He's played by Matthew Broderick, bringing all of that smart exasperation he brought to Election, but with a touch more heart here. What starts as a series of simple questions... escalates quickly. And before you know it you're murdering a pig.

To Dust, the strange and funny and eventually deeply profound first feature film from writer-director Shawn Snyder, wrestles deftly with these questions (and with that pig). There's a strong absurdist Coen streak to the proceedings sometimes - the sight of a Hasid dragging the aforementioned pig corpse through the woods has the feel of somebody having gotten stoned and binged Miller's Crossing & A Serious Man back-to-back and then dreamed it up on a belly full of Taco Bell. But Snyder never tips over into counterfeit, copy for copy's sake - To Dust remains true to its own unique and graceful voice through and through.

Géza Röhrig, so sad-eyed and introspective in Son of Saul, proves himself a tremendous comedian here, as a deeply straight man who doesn't see how crooked he's become. Part of the joke is the sight of him, sidelocks askew, rekel kaput - a very serious man indeed, come undone. But his anguish is real, and profound, even beautiful in its way - here is a religious man, seemingly already convinced of an afterlife, who feels the need to stop and dig his hands in the dirt and really feel it, really know it. The only way out is through.

And that's where To Dust ended up surprising me - it becomes, in its way, a religious film that reckons with, and appreciates, the lessons of pure atheism. Shmuel, in his period of sin, looks for peace through science. His time spent wandering the desert for answers takes him to a little science lab, some test tubes, and to the benefits of thinking outside the box. Even if its a little pine box in the ground with three holes cut in its bottom. You gotta start somewhere.

To Dust premieres tonight at 6:00 at Tribeca with a conversation with the cast afterwards. And also screens Mon 4/23 (6:30 PM), Tues 4/24 (3:30 PM) and Sat 4/28 (9:00 PM) 

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Reader Comments (1)

Nice review, as always Jason!

Ps: nelson pereira dos santos just died, this guy was a legend, Vidas Secas is the best brazilian movie of all times. I dont know if there are any brazilian writers in this site, but please, you should write something

April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

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