To Dust (2019)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on March 6, 2019 @

To Dust is a film steeped in religion.

Time is a major factor in the film.

I guess religion is a matter of timing. If we had been born in Ancient Greece, we'd have believed in Zeus, Dionysius, and Aphrodite. Believed fervently.

Isn't it fortunate that we were born in an age where we know the truth? Those silly Greeks. We enlightened folk.

To Dust is about a Jew embarking on an obsessed, furious mission to protect his wife after her death from cancer. Shmuel (Geza Rohrig) has nightmares of her body in torment. He is obsessed with the concept of rot, which he imagines in his wife's corpse. He is committed to understanding what happens to her literally, so he can free her spiritually. Shmuel takes almost everything literally. He is on a quest after literal truth.

Eventually Shmuel seeks out Albert (Matthew Broderick), who is an unprepossessing science teacher in a community college. The cautious Albert is perplexed by this strange man, whom he thinks is a rabbi. He's not a rabbi; he's a cantor. He has two young sons at home, but he is off on a mission that he assumes science will answer.

Reluctantly Albert tries to help Shmuel, and despite himself he gets involved in trying to answer the disturbing question about death and decomposition.

They do experiments on pigs. To Dust has several such ironies. They travel to a "body farm" in Tennessee. Ultimately they reach some understanding and resolution.

To Dust shouldn't work. But character and absurdity prevail uniquely. To Dust is macabre and mirthful, authentic and absurd.

Geza Rohrig is equal to the erratic stridency of Shmuel. Matthew Broderick is appealing as his unassuming sidekick. Broderick does his best Martin Mull impression. Together they make a memorable odd couple.

Director Shawn Snyder concocts a movie that's a wicked brew with a sweet aftertaste. He and co-writer Jason Begue create some deft wordplay, e.g., Hasidic and acidic. They are helped by the cinematography of Xavi Gimenez. The lighting is effective and meaningful, especially in the final shot.

Obviously, To Dust is not for everyone. But it's intelligent and idiosyncratic.

You won't see another film this year like it.

© 2000-2019 Tony Macklin