From Yugoslavia, a weird and wonderful morality play about rat people
haunting a small town. Considered a classic of dark fantasy by many, the
film is frankly a bit overrated, but required viewing nonetheless.
The basis for 1976’s THE RAT SAVIOR (IZBAVITELJ) was
Soviet writer Alexander Grin’s story “The Ratcatcher,” published in the
The director was Krsto Papic, a prolific documentarian
and feature filmmaker who was successful enough with the present film
(it won first prize at the 1982 Fantasporto film festival) that he made
a sequel/remake in 2003 called INFECTION.
Ivan, a lowly writer, is evicted from his apartment.
He’s discovered sleeping on a park bench that night by an old man, who
offers him a place to stay.
This place turns out to be the bowels of the town bank.
Exploring its darker corners, Ivan arrives at a balcony overlooking a
ballroom where several people chow down at a vast banquet, dance and
lasciviously cavort…before collectively standing and saluting their
“savior,” a man who discusses their “mission” and how anyone who opposes
them will die.
The following day Ivan returns to the bank with law
enforcement officers in tow, but all traces of the previous night’s
banquet have been expunged. Later, Ivan uncovers a book that describes a
race of intelligent rats who can pass for people. A professor colleague
confirms the rat people do indeed exist, and that the banqueters Ivan
spied are such creatures. The professor is working on a serum he claims
can do in the rat people, but is mysteriously killed before he can use
Ivan informs the town mayor of the rat people’s evil
design. Ivan also tests out the professor’s serum, finding that it is
indeed capable of killing the rat people, and also causes them to revert
to their true form. In this way Ivan kills several rat folk before he’s
captured and taken to the rat savior. Ivan escapes the so-called
savior’s clutches, but is confronted with new quandary: who among his
fellow humans is actually a rat person in disguise?
This film isn’t all that distinguished from a cinematic
standpoint, with a lot of very seventies elements--zoom lens abuse,
inappropriate disco-esque music cues--that haven’t dated well. Nor does
a gratuitous romance between the protagonist and the daughter of his
professor mentor do much to elevate the proceedings.
Where this film excels is in its audacity and
imagination. Director Krsto Papic takes the nutty rat people concept
entirely seriously, creating a provocative and even chilling parable
that in the hands of most anyone else would have likely played far
differently (a la 1986’s RAT BOY or 2007’s THE INVASION,
perhaps). The film has the elemental feel of a dark fairy tale, with all
the stark morality, timeless atmosphere and unflinching nastiness that
implies--true fairy tales, remember, aren’t politically correct
or particularly kind-hearted, and neither is this film.
THE RAT SAVIOR (IZBAVITELJ)
Croatia Film/Jadran Film
Director: Krsto Papic
Producer: Sulejman Kapic
Screenplay: Krsto Papic, Ivo Bresan, Zoran Tadic
(Based on a story by Alexander Grin)
Cinematography: Ivica Rajkovic
Editing: Zana Gerova, Miroslava Kapic
Cast: Ivica Vidovic, Mirjana Majurec, Relja Basic, Fabijan Sovagovic,
Ilja Ivezic, Branko Spoljar, Edo Perocevic, Zvonimir Ferencic