Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sticenik (1973)

A young man (who will later turn out to be) named Michael flees in panic through the countryside, slowly followed by a strange figure wearing a cape. Let's call the latter "The Man" from now on. Ooh, symbolism.

Michael manages to escape to a large building, and right into the arms of a psychiatrist. Looks like the young man has stumbled into a clinic for milder cases of mental illness. The psychiatrist decides to take care of Michael for a time. Though the Man stops his pursuit once his victim has reached the clinic, the psychiatrist still catches a look of the strange pursuer and realizes that something is going on that's not quite right.

Nonetheless, talking with the young man makes it clear to the psychiatrist that his guest is in dire need of more than just physical shelter, and that his clinic is not prepared to help a man like him. But, before the psychiatrist can get Michael someplace else, he will have to win the young man's trust.

Michael's stay isn't quiet, though. There is something about the young man and his fears that disturbs the other patients terribly, as if his nightmares were somehow dripping into theirs, but that's not even the strangest thing about the situation. The Man hasn't give up on his pursuit, it seems, and starts to appear outside the clinic, or even on its roof, willing to use violence against people getting in his way. Later on, the Man accosts the psychiatrist when he is walking down a lonely country road and tries to convince the doctor that he is Michael's guardian, and has every right to get his hands on him, but the obvious strangeness surrounding the Man does seem to make his words rather difficult to believe.

Finally, the psychiatrist makes a decision. It never becomes quite clear if he decides to give Michael to the Man or just to transfer him into a more fitting clinic for his case as he says (who treats supernatural pursuit anyway?). In the end, the nature of the psychiatrist's decision will not be important at all, because Michael makes one all his own.

Yugoslavian (Serbian) director Djordje Kadijevic has quite a few films treating models of the literary fantastic in a very particular way in his filmography. Some of these films, like Sticenik, have fortunately found the interest of fansubbers, who are doing everyone interested in the cinema of the fantastic quite a favour.

Sticenik is based on a short story by Serbian Jewish writer Filip David, and achieves a strange, dream-like, yet precise mood of the inevitable. The film utilizes black and white pictures to reach a point (and a mood) lying somewhere between the type of Gothic achievable on a TV budget in Yugoslavia in 1973 and the clear symbolism of the more daring part of Eastern European arthouse cinema.

I find the work of directors like Kadijevic, whose ideas of what fantasy cinema is for and how it is to be made are very different from those of Western (and inevitably more commercial) directors, as fascinating as it is difficult to write about. Sure, I could give you an interpretative rundown, giving my opinion on what the Man symbolizes and what the rocking chair in the garden is a metaphor for, but this approach to writing about film (or any art at all) isn't for me, because it sells the actual experience of watching a movie short and turns movies into crossword puzzles with one clear solution that I'll tell you about to demonstrate my intelligence, leaving you with little reason to actually watch the damn things on your own other than to disagree with me or praise my awesomeness.

Some things are better experienced than explained, so I'll just leave you with my recommendation for Sticenik as a film that perfectly makes everything that is good and interesting about Eastern European fantastic literature as I know it come alive, and that's well worth seeking out.


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