Every one of us processes grief differently. Most people know the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—but “In Dust,” a dark comedy starring Matthew Broderick and Géza Röhrig, suggests there are a few phases missing from that list.Röhrig, the Hungarian actor best known as star of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner “Son of Saul,” stars as Shmuel, an upstate New York Hasidic cantor distraught by the sudden passing of his wife Rivkah. Tormented by the thought that her ruach (soul) will not rest until she is turned to dust he becomes obsessed by the rate of her decomposition.
As I said, we all grieve differently.
His anguish pushes him to break religious law and seek guidance outside of his community. A casket salesman (Joseph Siprut), once he realizes Shmuel isn’t in the market to buy a casket, offers no help. “We don’t check their progress,” he says. In desperation he approaches bumbling community college biology professor Albert (Broderick).
The odd couple perform some decidedly non-kosher experiments—most notably with a stolen pig named Harold—to establish a timeline for Rivkah’s decay and put Shmuel’s mind to rest.
“Who doesn’t like bacon?” asks Albert, placing foot firmly in mouth.
First time feature director Shawn Snyder has crafted an offbeat but appealing comedy that offers up laughs as well as bittersweet sensitivity. In what is essentially a two hander, Snyder amps up the absurdity by allowing his actors to be both unlikeable and yet strangely compelling. Röhrig and Broderick are a perfectly matched, if morbid, odd couple.
Röhrig plays Shmuel as a sympathetic character but one who pushes the boundaries of behaviour as he follows through in his tormented obsession. He finds the tragedy and the humour in the situation, equal parts comic exasperation, stubbornness and heartache.
Broderick, often decked out in his ex-wife’s lacy housecoat, is a delight. His Albert has let life pass him by. Hapless and hopeless, he seizes on this experience as a way to reawaken his love of science and life. Broderick is deadpan perfection.
“To Dust” is a one-joke movie but it is a good joke brought to life by two actors who make their extreme characters relatable and recognizable.