Movie director, Đorđe Kadijević, is an artist from Yugoslavia, whose film “The Feast” from 1967 is considered one of the best Serbian films of all time. He is also recognized as a starter of the horror film era in Serbia since he is known worldwide for his cult film “Leptirica” from 1973. “Leptirica” is thought to be the first horror film made in Serbia. With this unique author’s cinematography, Đorđe Kadijević dealt primarily with the marginal topics of the recent and distant history of Yugoslavia’s territory and darker aspects of the mentality of his country. His movie “Ward” did not disappoint at all by carrying the same popularity, mindset and style.
By genre, this 45-minute-long movie represents an unusual combination of drama and horror. That cinematic macabre, gothic melodrama with sparks of folk horror dives deep into the strange unknown and tells the story of a young man who suffers from an insurmountable belief that he is in mortal danger by someone.
Based on Filip David’s story, ”Mihael and his cousin”, which is part of a short story collection named “A Well in a Dark Forest”, the movie, in its own way, combines life and what is beyond life, what is unrealistically based in reality. As Nadežda Obradović from the University of Belgrade says about “The Best Stories by Filip David”: “The ambience of David’s stories features stormy nights, driving rains, and whistling winds, making people take refuge in a shelter, where around a fire one tale after another is told, stories full of strange occurrences, demons, mysteries, and cabalistic beliefs.” Usually, the protagonists of these stories are men, but some women occasionally appear as well. ‘Bunar u tamnoj šumi’ (‘The Well in the Dark Forest’) is full of foreboding and hints of an imminent accident. ”There are always two possibilities (in David’s stories): you are either awake or dreaming. When you are awake, you wish to sleep and dream; when you dream, you wish to awaken. There are always two paths: the path of dream and the path of reality, and both are treading simultaneously. It is never known along which path you are walking, just as it is never known what is real and what is a dream…” (Filip David, “Najlepše price Filipa Davida” Belgrade. Prosveta. 2001.)
“Ward ” in the original Serbo-Croatian title is called “Štićenik ” with the meaning of “a person who is legally put under the protection of a law court or a guardian”. Here is the main protagonist Mihael. He is a young man running away from a silhouette, a man in a dark suit with a cape and bowler hat. He manages to find shelter and escape into a psychiatric hospital in hope of finding saving grace there. While in the facility, a doctor attempts to care for him but that is an arduous task when the doctor is not completely sure who frightens the young man and if he is real. A suspicious and weird, moody atmosphere has entered the psychiatric walls. Even the doctor is questioning and second-guessing himself about the presence of Mihael’s prosecutor chaser. Relentless feeling that the person is never alone. “Michael behaved as if a secret, unstoppable and inexorable misfortune was already deeply present in him and that his anticipation was only a mask with which he tried to cover up the foreign state of affairs.”
Mihael’s chaser, a man in a black suit, visits the asylum courtyard and heads towards the building, but the porter stops him. The fight breaks down, but the prosecutor leaves when the porter’s screams attract the attention of the rest of the staff and patients. Meanwhile, Mihael is struggling with “hallucinations”. One morning a doctor is walking along a foggy road when he is met by a prosecutor’s stalker figure in a black suit demanding his ward back. He claims to be Mihael’s guardian (cousin), and that he had run away from home. He allegedly needs care that doctors are unable to provide. The sceptical doctor asks him “Then how did he escape from you?”. The “Guardian” predicts that something bad is going to happen and leaves. Mihael jumps out of the window and dies.
This elliptical psychological horror is expressed with great symbolism. Filip David’s story begins with words: “The night was rainy and stormy. We sat in the main room motionless, still and stiff as statues while the patients walked excitedly and irritably around their cells”. Film director Kadijević smartly plays with camera shots of statues placed in an asylum, referencing the writer’s comparison of doctors being unalive as statues. Stormy weather, wind and fog sense the bad and dark, scary outcomes. The mystical powers according to the book pressurise Mihael to leave his patient’s cell and climb on top of the roof of the building even though that is quite impossible because he is not able to leave his room. Unexplanatory silhouettes on the roof some nights and days haunted the place. Could it be Mihael or is that man in black? The roof illustrates the significant point for the annunciation and prediction of a plot as the highest point of the building. Infamous tree and his drawing in the movie, in his original source, is portrayed as a picture while the doctor at the beginning of the story is looking out of the window, then as an object which Mihael is curiously and with fear staring at and also as a place where the guardian persecutor is first seen. This “Tree of life’s” complete opposite, can be seen as a portal for unnatural, bad, and demonic that lets the evil forces enter this world. That tree is shown in the very first, as well as the last scene of the movie as the representation of the cycle of death. Some people would say that this is Balkan’s version of “The Seventh Seal” by Ingmar Bergman in the way of similarities to the Black Death and Mihael’s guardian. Mihael’s guardian symbolises death (or maybe the devil itself) that has come for him or already had been long at his side.
This mysterious motion picture leaves in existence lots of questions that could not be answered. The terrifying atmosphere, “rural setting and themes of isolation, the power of nature, and the potential darkness of rural landscapes” of this black and white Balkan classic make your blood run cold. Everything you see you hope it is a dream that you wish to be awakened from.
- Filip David, “Najlepše price Filipa Davida” Belgrade. Prosveta. 2001.
- “Stories”, Filip David