THE POWER OF THE IRRATIONAL
AN INTERVIEW WITH DJORDJE KADIJEVIC
THE DIRECTOR OF A HOLY PLACE
Conducted by Dejan Ognjanovic
DJORDJE KADIJEVIC is a Serbian director born in Šibenik (in what is now Croatia) in 1933. He is an art historian by education, but become a film director in the late 1960s. His first film, PRAZNIK (A FESTIVITY, 1967) is considered by many – I included – to be one of the top-10 Serbian films of all time. It was followed by POHOD (THE TREK, 1968), ŽARKI (THE FIERY ONE, 1970) and PUKOVNIKOVICA (THE COLONEL'S WIFE, 1971). The first three are dramas set in the WW2, while THE COLONEL'S WIFE is a black-comedy-drama set in WW1.
After those he continued his career on TV, where he directed some of his best films. Those include ČUDO (A MIRACLE, 1971), ZAKLETVA (THE OATH, 1974) and KARADJORDJEVA SMRT (THE DEATH OF KARADJORDJE, 1983).
LEPTIRICA (SHE-BUTTERFLY, 1973)
He is especially popular as the pioneering author of horror film in Serbia with his beloved cult TV film LEPTIRICA (SHE-BUTTERFLY, 1973). In the same year he also directed a grim gothic romance DEVIČANSKA SVIRKA (A MAIDEN'S MUSIC, 1973) and a metaphysical dark fantasy ŠTIĆENIK (THE PROTECTED, 1973). SVETO MESTO (A HOLY PLACE, 1990) was his long awaited return to a film made for cinemas – however, the outbreak of civil wars in Yugoslavia prevented its cinematic life and the film was only shown on Serbian TV, and nowhere else.
In July 2010 the film was selected as a part of the SUBVERSIVE SERBIA program at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Here is an excerpt of a much longer talk I had with the director.
--- Have you at any point, while adapting Gogol's story "Viy", considered to keep the monsters and supernatural creatures that appear at the end of the story?
No, I rejected those because, you see, my film is realistic. Films of this genre can have success if they are rendered naturalistic. Only if you believe in this horrible situation you can accept that which seems impossible. If you immediately mystify things and if the viewer starts wondering from the start - you will not have the same effect.
--- Have you seen the Russian film version of "Viy"?
Yes, I saw it, and didn't like it. This kind of superstition I am not fond of. I did not want to make the film about the state of mind which is identified with the concept of superstition. I was aiming for something else, outside of that context. Gogol could always say: 'I did not make this up, this is a folk tale, folk imagination, Russian folk story ...'' But peasant's superstitions were not my primary concern.
--- The Russian film was actually made as a fable-like, benign fantasy.
Yes, and my film is not a fairy tale (laughs), this is an anti-fairy tale. It is precisely based on the standpoint of being anti-fairy tales, in terms of stressing the negativity which defines my whole strategy. The whole film is based on it.
--- It seems to me that A HOLY PLACE is more open to psychological interpretation, with all the perversion and teeming passions?
I wouldn't use the term 'perverse'. This film goes beyond the concept of perversion. Perversion is trivial. For example, if you have a man who can not experience an erection if he does not see blood. There is such a perversion: you must cut a woman, and only then are you a man, and unless you see the blood you are powerless. Perversion is always conditioned by something. Perversion falls into what I call triviality. This film deals with the mystical. The mystical is a kind of knowledge without explanation, without commentary.
--- The irrational.
Yes, irrational. Essential irrationality. It's awfully difficult to portray. When we talk about the essential irrationality, we are looking for an expression. It is a real challenge to show an image accompanied by sound and to create an illusion of real life scenes while dealing with essentially irrational themes.
--- The reason I mentioned the possibility of psychological reading is that it seems to me that in A HOLY PLACE you left the door slightly ajar for such an interpretation ...
It is possible to turn to psychology. If we start that way, then we will eventually return with one explanation, we'll get an excuse and I did not want any excuse nor explanation for the irrational. You know, we are a nation well suited for fantasy, for the mystical. We are people of the East. And we have a deeper sense and yearning for the metaphysical dimension of things than men in the West. If you take Slavic folklore as a basis, there are a lot of fantastic and horrific, creepy stories. If you consider our little-known and barely studied ancient Slavic pagan beliefs, or if you consider our medieval mysticism, the Manichean, Bosnian, Bogumil beliefs, we are one of the most mystic-oriented people in Europe.