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Making a remarkably assured feature debut as director, Lukas Feigelfeld mesmerizes with his German Gothic poetry, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse.
Settled somewhere in the 15th Century Alps, the film shadows lonely, ostracized women struggling against a period where plague, paranoia and superstition reigned.
Young Albrun (Celina Peter) and her mother (Claudia Martini) make their way back to their isolated cabin before darkness falls. With a minimum of dialog and a maximum of atmosphere, Feigelfeld quickly establishes the dangerous isolation facing mother and daughter.
It’s an episode that will haunt Albrun well into adulthood, where she (Aleksandra Cwen) is now the single mother, still an outsider, still isolated from the village.
It would be easy to mistake the story Feigelfeld (who also writes) develops as a take on horror’s common “is she crazy or is there malevolence afoot?” theme. But the filmmaker’s hallucinatory tone and Cwen’s grounded performance allow Hagazussa to straddle that line and perhaps introduce a third option—maybe both are true.
Isolation, shunning and bullying lead to one tragedy upon the next. The village and its priest having deemed Albrun a witch, the line that defines the reality of the situation and the spiritual ugliness blur for both Albrun and the audience.
The film lends itself to a reading more lyrical than literal. Feigelfeld’s influences from Murnau to Lynch show themselves in his deliberate pacing and the sheer beauty of his delusional segments. One goat milking episode, in particular, is both startlingly erotic and disturbingly articulate of Albrun’s state of mind.
MMD’s ominous score strengthens the film’s overall sense of hypnotic menace, echoing sounds we’re not sure will frighten or comfort this mysterious woman at the center of the film.
Albrun’s is a tragic story and Feigelfeld crafts it with a believable loneliness that bends toward madness. He’s captured this moment in time, this draining and ugly paranoia that caused women such misery, with imagery that is perplexingly beautiful.