Magazine article Screen International

'To Dust': Tribeca Review

Magazine article Screen International

'To Dust': Tribeca Review

Article excerpt

Matthew Broderick and Geza Rohrig star in this two-hander about mortal decay

To Dust

Dir. Shawn Snyder, USA, 2018, 91 minutes

‘To Dust’ is a term that evokes the mortality of the flesh in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Shawn Snyder’s film about a cantor grieving for his wife and pondering her body’s decomposition is earnest to the point of piety. It’s also bawdy, and at moments, very funny. Films about rotting flesh usually show at midnight screenings, with an afterlife on VOD. While the low-budget To Dust can look forward to that. It is also sure to turn up at the Jewish film festivals that don’t reject it outright for blasphemy. Fans of Matthew Broderick, who plays a hapless science teacher in this two-hander, will be rewarded.

The earthy side of To Dust involves so much exhuming and examination of maggots that the physical mess of death becomes a set of comic props like any other

Shmuel (Geza Rohrig from Son of Saul), has just lost his wife to cancer. Mourning her, he’s puzzled about where her soul will eventually return if her body decomposes underground in a plain pine box with three holes. As Shmuel wanders around upstate New York, inquiring like a pilgrim without a destination about the decay of the flesh he stumbles into a community college science course taught by Albert (Matthew Broderick). Things get earthy right away when Albert discusses gases trapped in dead bodies that might eventually explode.

Through a meeting of science and the sacred, Shmuel and Albert become an investigative odd couple. To instruct Shmuel on the decay of his wife’s body, Albert compares human decomposition to that of a pig, first with a gruesome video, and then with a real pig that they suffocate and bury, and dig up, and bury - again and again. Shmuel the cantor does everything to this pig but eat it. He keeps kosher, after all. (Animal rights activists may find the scenes offensive.)

Rohrig, as the perplexed Shmuel, ranges from deadpan to apocalyptic. Broderick plays Albert as a teacher at the bottom of the academic food chain, incredulous but compliant, drawn into the project because he doesn’t have much else to do. …

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