STICENIK (The Protected One, 1973)

Directed by:
Djordje Kadijevic

Radio Television Belgrade, 1973

Running time:
46 min. (16 mm, b/w)

Djordje Kadijevic,
based on a story by
Philip David

Director of photography:
Branko Ivatovic

Music and sound:
Milan Trickovic

Make up:
Lepa Prvanovic

Milan Mihailovic
Dusan Janicijevic
Branko Plesa
Bogdan Jakus
Ljubomir Cipranic
Toma Kuruzovic
Svetlana Dragojevic

PLOT: A young man is running through the desolate area, surrounded by sand and an occasional blackened, barren tree, apparently fleeing from someone. He is followed by a man with a cold expression, wearing a black mantle. The young man reaches the large building of an asylum and requires the doctor to receive him and take care of him. He introduces himself as Michael, but refuses to say anything more about his persecutor. He denies hints that he may be sick, and believes that he does not need treatment, but only care and protection. The doctor is initially skeptical, but there is a shadow of a doubt because he himself saw, or thought he saw, someone who had followed Michael to the very asylum. 

The second time, the follower comes into the asylum's yard and heads towards the building. The doorman stops him, claiming that it is not time for visits, but the Man just grabs him by the neck and throws him down to the ground. He leaves only when the screams attract attention of the rest of the staff and patients.
One morning, a doctor walks through the foggy wasteland, when he encounters the pursuer, seeking his protege back. He claims to be Michael's guardian. Michael has escaped him but, allegedly, he needs the kind of care that the doctors are unable to provide. The nameless "guardian" threatens a gloomy outcome if his protege is not delivered back to him...

REVIEW: The Protected One is another example of Djordje Kadijevic's skills in mature adaptation of a literary work so that, in his interpretation, it becomes even more complex, with the potential developed to the utmost. The literary text becomes only a point of departure for an intelligent and inspired author's superstructure, fully colored with Kadijevic's trademark style, but basically true to the original. This personal touch can be seen, among other things, in the very title: none of Kadijevic's horror adaptations (The She-Butterfly, The Maidenly Music and A Holy Place) is called by the title of stories they were inspired by ("After 90 Years", "Alpurarian Music", "Viy"). This freedom is fully deserved, because of the originality and seriousness evident in the director's approach.
The story "Michael and His Cousin" by Philip David originates from a collection of short stories A Well in the Dark Woods (1964). The central theme, in all of them, concerns man's inability to transcend earthly limitations and penetrate into the beyond. This is perhaps most explicitly present in the story "A Blind Bird," about a man obsessed with becoming a bird and flying away from his empty life. At the same time, stories of this collection speak of fascination with "the dark side" and inability to resist the metaphysical darkness, especially apparent in the collection's titular short story, in which a father fails to rescue his son from the mysteriously magnetic attraction of a well in the dark forest which no one else can see. "Michael and His Cousin" also falls into this thematic circle since it deals with inability of escaping one's destiny. David's story is merely nine pages long in print, and hardly comparable to a sketch. Kadijevic is inspired by this sketch to apply his paintbrush and make a detailed artwork worthy of Francisco de Goya.  
Narrated from the perspective of an unnamed doctor, the story begins in a dark, stormy night when a mysterious fugitive enters the doors of asylum. In Kadijevic's film, it happens in broad daylight. True, this is a gray, overcast fall day filled with howling winds. In this author's films the day is as often the scene of horror as is the night, and he manages to create some of his most memorably spooky effects of his films in their daytime scenes. Even if these proceedings are, to some extent, due to the limitations of a cheap TV production and difficulties related to night shooting, the fact remains that Kadijevic has no problem circumventing this obstacle and finding terror in the cold daylight. This is actually closer to the point of David's prose, in which the light of day does not bring salvation.
Certainly the key moment in the story and the film version is the relationship between the young man and his pursuer. The true nature of the follower has intentionally been left foggy in both cases. In the story's title he is referred to as a "cousin", and later references describe ''a slender, elongated inhuman and swift figure'', ''unknown creature", ''a stranger'', ''persecutor'', "mysterious, tyrannical, parasitic creature'', ''unknown master", ''ghostly man'', ''phantom'' and so on.  
The origin of this creature remains unclear, but subtle allusions suggest that he is most likely the Devil, who came for his due, for the soul of the one who unwisely, and perhaps unknowingly, sold it into predition. In any case, it is clear that the relationship with the "relative" does not come from blood ties, but that their connection is of a more intangible, more sophisticated nature. It is a relationship of a master and a (runaway) slave, or guardian and ward, "the protected one".
In fact, the story seems to repeat the situation of the classical German horror film Der Student von Prag (1913), screenplay written by H. H. Evers, but in a way that elliptically obscures the first phases of the plot, representing only its culmination, with no introduction and development. In the film by Stellan Rye a young student sells his reflection in the mirror (his soul) to a refined man of aristocratic manners, dressed in black. The latter is presented as Dr. Scapinelli, but it is clear that this is a devil incarnate. (See: Dejan Ognjanovic, Faustian screen: The Devil in Cinema) In the end, realizing what he has done, the boy runs away, but in vain, and his own reflection kills him. "The Buyer" appears to rejoice over the dead body of the student, ripping the contract, and symbolically taking the soul to eternal damnation… The Protected One ends in a very similar manner…

(This is an excerpt from the book on Serbian horror cinema In the Hills, the Horrors by Dejan Ognjanovic)

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