The Devil’s Bath

It should have been a happy day for Agnes, the first of many at the start of her new life as a wife to Wolf Lizlfellner, soon to be the mother to their children, aware that it would be a struggle, the hard work of the fishing village and the obligations of the homestead, cooking and cleaning and mending clothes in the rough stone building which he has put them in debt to purchase, but they would be together and she would be fulfilled.

Instead, Wolf has no interest in her, never touching her on their wedding night, and the daily visits of his mother Gänglin sees her endlessly criticised for what she doesn’t do and what she does wrong, praying at the wrong times, storing pans the wrong way, failing to provide a child, and alone she turns to the forest to escape, finding kinship in the mutilated body displayed atop the hill, a woman executed for murdering her baby but who gained absolution through her confession.

Written and directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, The Devil’s Bath (Des Teufels Bad) is a descent into the desperation and madness of Agnes (Anja Plaschg) witnessed by Wolf (David Scheid) and Gänglin (Maria Hofstätter, a frequent collaborator with producer Ulrich Seidl), neither of them cruel but both indifferent and blind to the torment they cause, and her eventual escape through the only door open to her.

Wolf perhaps grieving over the loss of his friend Lenz (Lorenz Tröbinger) who hanged himself in his barn, as a suicide his soul is lost forever, his body thrown in the field to rot rather than offered a Christian burial and eternal salvation, a law as firm and inflexible as the other traditions of the rural village where animals are killed for fun and the blood of a murderer is thought to be blessed, the Age of Enlightenment yet to penetrate the dark forest.

Wolf saying his wife is in “the Devil’s bath,” he does not understand her and lacks the patience to help her, if any help for clinical depression exacerbated by circumstances would have been possible in Austria in 1750, and with hollow religion offering no comfort Agnes continues to deteriorate, closing herself off from others, neglecting herself and, unforgivably, her duties to the household.

Based on the research work of Kathy Stuart published as Suicide by Proxy in Early Modern Germany: Crime, Sin and Salvation, particularly the trial records of Agnes Catherina Schickin of Wuerttemberg and Eva Lizlfellnerin of Puchheim, The Devil’s Bath is not pleasant or uplifting viewing but nor does it seek to be such, two hours only a fragment of a life unbearable, a lesson from history of the burden of unremitting misery which should be learned and understood but not repeated.

The Devil’s Bath will be available on Shudder from Friday 28th June



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