Directed by: Andrzej Zulawski
Starring: Leszek Teleszynski (Jakub), Wojciech Pszoniak (Stranger), Monika Niemczyk (Nun), Malgorzata Braunek (Fiancee)
Country: Poland, European Cinema
Language: Polish (English Subtitles)
Genres: Bizarre-Surreal, Religion, Satanism, Incest
Plot – Spoilers:
Set in the late 18th century, a prisoner Jakub is freed from a fort/convent by a stranger who also picks out a nun there, to accompany Jakub on his journey to the outside world.
Jakub was imprisoned in the fort following a failed conspiracy to assassinate the emperor. Initially, he comes across as a tormented martyr-like figure prone to epileptic seizures when things get intense. As Jakub and the nun journey on, the stranger keeps springing up, guiding him through bizarre experiences while also controlling his thoughts and perception of the world. The pervasive pre-dawn atmosphere and ’70s psychedelic music add to the gloom as Jakub discovers that everything he knew and grew up with has changed. That the people he cared for, are forever lost to him.
Diabel is a surreal experience with intentionally dramatic acting straight out of village theatre, and is probably best watched keeping in mind that the metaphors and themes were influenced by the oppressive regime Zulawski made the film under, where the government kept a tight leash on expression and perception.
Thoughts on what the fuck this movie is about (Massive Spoilers):
Given the title ‘The Devil’, and the sinister ways in which the Stranger keeps appearing and pushing Jakub towards a loss of his morality, it is a good idea to look at the stranger as the Devil. The nun probably represents Jakub’s purity and idealism which he slowly loses. At one point, the nun gets rid of her scarf and looks attractive, even seductive, perhaps representing a shift from the Catholic view on purity. Also, the Stranger morphs into a sort of wolf at the end which also has devilish references.
The other way to look at it is, Jakub like the viewer was sold a dummy. Classic diversion by manipulative forces to achieve their objectives. The officer who pays the Stranger at the end says something to this effect about giving Man a facade of honour, nobility and the spiritual soul to send him down the path you want him to go in.