Lukas Feigelfeld’s Hagazussa is an audacious film that dives into the inner workings of traditional folklore to tell an entirely new kind of dark fairy tale.
Set in 15th century Europe, the film tells the tale of Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen), a young woman who has been raised in relative isolation by her mother. For the entirety of her life, Albrun has been an outsider. She has lived alone in the woods and on the fringe of the nearby village. She is scorned and feared by the locals, as was her mother before her. The film tells the story of how the isolation and mistreatment eventually cause Albrun to crumble, creating the real monster that lives beyond the facade of the folk tales and legends that we have come to know so well.
Hagazussa is fascinating in the way it breaks down many of the folkloric aspects that we have come to associate with witches and presents them more as a series of events rather than a mythos. We see Albrun come to personify a number of these traits as a response to the challenges and the people that she encounters. If the story is about how Albrun comes to embrace her witchly nature, the details of the story provide context for how she arrives at that ending place.
Albrun has several interactions with locals from the nearby village over the course of the film, and most of them are negative. From bratty kids saying they don't want the spoiled milk from her goats, to a group of robed, horned strangers sneaking around the outside of the cabin, to a tenuous relationship with a local woman, Albrun seems destined to lead a lonely, reviled existence. Her solitary life has marked her as "other" from an early age, and the villagers she encounters are more than happy to reinforce that notion and make clear that she is not welcome among them.
The film is a visual and auditory marvel. The deep forests and huge mountains create a gorgeous, yet often foreboding setting. The nature surrounding Albrun is beautiful, but its sheer size and scope serve as a constant reminder that she is alone in the elements. The score from Mmmd works to provide a menacing undercurrent that flows through the story and gives it a haunted tone.
Hagazussa is very open to interpretation, which will be its greatest strength for some and its biggest frustration for others. It leaves plenty of space to ruminate upon the proceedings and to debate where everything falls. Whether the last act of the film is actually happening or if it is a dark metaphor is up to the audience to decide, which is part of what makes the film so rich. One way or another, Albrun's story focuses on the impact that ostracization and isolation can have on a person. Do monsters exist, or does humankind create them?
Movie Score: 4/5