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April 19, 2019

Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse

hagazussa poster.jpg

Lukas Feigelfeld - 2018
Doppelgänger Releasing

With its 15th Century rural setting, Hagazussa treads some of the some ground as November and The VVitch. Unlike those two films, there is no obvious display of magic of any kind. And any horror may be too subtle for those viewers who demand graphic violence. The title is the old German word for witch.

The opening shot reminded me of another film where the horror was an unseen presence in the snowy woods. A girl, barely an adolescent, is walking alone in the snow. She is bundled up in clothing that is black or gray. Even the trees are drained of any color. At first there is the impression that the film is in black and white. Those first few shots made me think of Track of the Cat, where William Wellman's film shot in color, muted by costumes and design, save for Robert Mitchum's red overcoat. Whether this was deliberate or coincidental on the part of Feigelfeld is something I can't answer, but the visual and thematic similarities are there.

Whether or not Albrun, the young woman first introduced as the girl in the opening scene, is actually a witch is left open. There are accusations by some of the villagers whom Albrun encounters. This may be due to Albrun, like her mother before her, choosing to live further apart from the others, tending to her goats. The film is almost dialogue free, and Albrun barely speaks, even when visited by a neighbor woman. When asked about the paternity of her baby daughter, Lebrun only explains, "There is no husband", almost suggesting parthenogenesis. When Albrun visits the village priest, the only vague clue is that Albrun must resolve something deemed sacrilegious. She is also given the skull of her dead mother. Strangely, Albrun is undisturbed by any villagers during the time when she most likely could have provoked accusations.

As Albrun, Aleksandra Cwen is almost blank in her facial expression for most of the film. Her performance is primarily in her eyes. There is one scene where the camera focuses on Cwen's face. We can not see what is happening to Albrun, though the viewer can make some assumptions based on the previous shots. But what the audience does see are Cwen's eyes getting wider, while her focus remains looking down, below the bottom of the frame. More erotically suggestive is a scene of Albrun milking a goat. Feigelfeld keeps the viewer from knowing exactly what is going on, keeping the camera distant on Cwen's back in what may be the most horrific scene.

Hagazussa was primarily a student project by Feigelfeld for the German Film and Television Academy Berlin, produced over a period of four years, and partially financed by crowd funding. The unusual music track is by the Greek duo, MMMD, with a combination of custom made instruments and software.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 19, 2019 08:33 AM