The retirement of Daniel Day-Lewis has opened the field for another male actor who doesn’t work often, but who always makes it matter when he does. Enter Géza Röhrig, who appeared out of nowhere three years ago in László Nemes’s Auschwitz nightmare Son of Saul, and who is no less commanding now in Shawn Snyder’s comparatively lighter but still pretty dark comedy To Dust. Shmuel (Röhrig) is a Hasidic cantor in Upstate New York who is haunted by visions of his wife’s decomposing body after her recent burial, and fears that it means her soul is still suffering.
Despite the inquiry being forbidden by his faith, Shmuel enlists the reluctant aid of community college science teacher Albert (Matthew Broderick) to conduct a quasi-scientific and even more quasi-legal experiments to determine how long it will take his wife’s body to return to its constituent particles and for her soul to find peace. Snyder doesn’t shy away from the inherent grodiness of the decomposition process, nor the way conservative religions fail to address human needs. Broderick being well-cast as the sad sack who just wants to get stoned and listen to Jethro Tull at the end of the day is no surprise, but it’s Röhrig who owns To Dust, an early contender for one of the best films of 2019.
Rated R. Opens Friday at the Vogue Theatre.