Sveto mesto (A Holy Place, 1990) is based on a literary classic, Nikolai Gogol's 1835 short story, 'Viy'. However, Kadijevic uses it only as a starting point for his own explorations into ...
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Sveto mesto (A Holy Place, 1990) is based on a literary classic, Nikolai Gogol's 1835 short story, 'Viy'. However, Kadijevic uses it only as a starting point for his own explorations into the dark side of eroticism. Gogol's story deals with Toma, a reluctant theology student who is forced to read the Psalms over an (un)dead girl for three nights in a row. All the while supernatural forces are trying to grab him from the Holy Circle drawn on the church floor. Kadijevic adapts and enriches 'Viy' by inventing a new backstory for the witch-girl and her father. The dead girl, Catherine (unwittingly killed in the prologue, while in the shape of a hag), is referred to as a 'saint' and her father is a harsh and unpleasant man. Kadijevic departs further from the original story, and introduces an excess of perversity and horror more reminiscent of the Anglo-American gothic than the milder Slavic attempts in a similar mode. Incest is the name of the game here. Written by
Very interesting to me, to see a film like Sveto Mesto made in 1990. My first experience of Balkan cinema (Yugoslavian to be precise), but most notably to me coming out at such a time, best known for the demise of the classic slasher era and the descent of B horror into its decade odd length slumber. With its measured pace, traditional story and lack of gore or even any blood, Sveto Mesto could almost be a relic held in amber, golden view to the thoughts and fears of a whole different generation of cinema. It is this in a way, but fortunately more too, not just some quaint throwback but a surprisingly barbed affair and as such rather intriguing. Its based on a tale by Gogol of a priest (here named Toma) in training who is summoned by a local landowner to fulfil his daughter Katarina's dying wish. As is customary, he is to wait over her body for three nights prayer, and as one might expect things do not go according to plan. Reluctant from the outset, the hero's fears are increased by various strange tales and dark revelations, and things become very troublesome indeed. It all seems like pretty standard stuff and in many ways it is, there's demonstration of the power of the lords prayer, foggy night time chills, superstition, class division and the expected boos. But Katarina, the focus of the piece is treated in a far less coy, far more modern fashion than she might have been in a film from another generation. She is a strong, confident and beautiful woman who transgresses not just class divisions but sexual mores and does so for no higher purpose than pleasure, in short beyond the notion of her as a supernatural presence she embodies the misogynistic fears of the era and its notion of witches. An interesting character then, covering the spectrum from small minded fear to genuine menace and finely essayed by the striking Branka Pujic, disarmingly sensual, compelling like the caress of a blade. She doesn't have a great deal of screen time but does great with it and happily everyone else does well in framing her performance. Dragan Jonavic is decent as Toma, grappling with fear and duty as he is drawn beyond his limits, Aleksandar Bercek makes for a good creepy local elite and various rustic types give the right mixture of stoicism and unease. There's good atmosphere throughout and some interesting jolts, but the structure is a little too conventional and the fearful scenes often a little too low key in presentation for the film to really leap out, especially the slightly fudged finale, but nonetheless its decent viewing and well worth a watch for anyone interested in period spooky tales or Eastern European horror.
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