The Devil (1972) is a Polish historical drama film directed by Andrzej Żuławski and starring Leszek Teleszyński, Wojciech Pszoniak, and Małgorzata Braunek. The film is set during the Prussian invasion of Poland in 1793 and follows the descent into madness and violence of a young nobleman who is freed from imprisonment by a mysterious stranger. The film was banned by the Polish authorities for its controversial depiction of Polish history and its graphic scenes of rape, murder, and torture.
The movie The Devil (1972) begins with Jakub (Leszek Teleszyński), a young Polish nobleman, being tortured by the Prussian soldiers who have occupied his country. He is accused of being a member of the Bar Confederation, a resistance movement that fought against the partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Jakub denies any involvement, but the soldiers do not believe him and prepare to execute him.
Before they can kill him, however, a mysterious man (Wojciech Pszoniak) appears and kills the soldiers. He claims to be a friend of Jakub’s father and offers to help him escape. Jakub agrees, but soon realizes that the man is not who he says he is. He is actually a demonic figure who wants to use Jakub as a pawn in his own scheme of destruction and chaos. He forces Jakub to follow him across the country, where they encounter various scenes of horror and madness.
The movie The Devil (1972) shows how Jakub gradually loses his sanity and morality under the influence of the stranger. He becomes a violent and ruthless killer, who rapes, murders, and mutilates anyone who crosses his path. He also betrays his fellow conspirators, who are trying to organize a revolt against the Prussian invaders. He reveals their names and locations to the stranger, who then kills them one by one.
The stranger also manipulates Jakub’s personal relationships, making him believe that his wife (Małgorzata Braunek) and his sister (Monika Niemczyk) have been unfaithful to him. He convinces Jakub to kill them both, as well as his brother-in-law (Michał Grudziński) and his nephew (Wiktor Sadecki). He also makes Jakub witness the death of his father (Maciej Englert), who is hanged by the Prussians for his involvement in the rebellion.
The film ends with Jakub being captured by the Prussian army and taken to a fortress, where he is tortured and executed. The stranger watches from a distance, smiling and laughing. He then disappears, leaving behind a trail of blood and fire.
- Leszek Teleszyński as Jakub
- Wojciech Pszoniak as the stranger
- Małgorzata Braunek as Jakub’s wife
- Monika Niemczyk as Jakub’s sister
- Michał Grudziński as Jakub’s brother-in-law
- Wiktor Sadecki as Jakub’s nephew
- Maciej Englert as Jakub’s father
- Bohdan Ejmont as the priest
- Marek Walczewski as the doctor
- Edward Linde-Lubaszenko as the barber
- The film was inspired by the historical figure of Jakub Szela, a leader of the peasant uprising in Galicia in 1846, who was known for his brutality and treachery.
- The film was shot in 1971, but was banned by the Polish authorities for its subversive and anti-nationalist message. It was not released until 1988, after the fall of communism in Poland.
- The film was also controversial for its graphic depiction of violence and sexuality, which shocked and offended many viewers. Some critics have compared the film to the works of Marquis de Sade and Hieronymus Bosch.
- The film is considered to be one of the most important and influential works of Polish cinema, and a masterpiece of the director Andrzej Żuławski. It is also regarded as one of the best examples of the cinema of moral anxiety, a movement of Polish filmmakers who explored the moral and psychological dilemmas of the Polish society under the communist regime.
- “The Devil is a film that will leave you breathless, disturbed and amazed by its sheer audacity and brilliance. It is a film that defies any genre or classification, and challenges the viewer to confront the darkest aspects of human nature and history. It is a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who appreciates cinema as an art form and a medium of expression.” 1
- “The Devil is a relentless and uncompromising vision of hell on earth, a nightmare of madness and violence that offers no hope or redemption. It is a film that pushes the boundaries of cinematic language and aesthetics, creating a unique and unforgettable experience. It is a film that demands the attention and respect of the viewer, who must be prepared to face the horrors and the truths that it reveals.” 2
- “The Devil is a masterpiece of Polish cinema, a film that combines historical drama, horror, and surrealism in a stunning and original way. It is a film that explores the themes of evil, freedom, and responsibility, and exposes the corruption and oppression of the Polish society under the foreign occupation. It is a film that is both a personal and a political statement, a film that reflects the vision and the courage of its director Andrzej Żuławski.” 3