Kresnik: The Lore of Fire is a short slice of Slovenian pagan life, with roots just as ancient as those of Greek and Roman mythology. This short film, directed by David Siposh, is the first Slovenian movie successfully funded on Kickstarter. Slavic mythology is a theme poorly used in films or literature, in fact, there are many different versions of the mythology itself. Most mythologies have a consistency; myths are written by different authors but contain the same information, the same story. Slavic mythology is recorded in fragments, gods and goddesses have various origins, some gods even carry different names as if they had multiple personalities.
The title of the movie is actually a name of a Slavic god, Kresnik. He is most commonly known amongst Slovenian people, especially because of the celebration of Midsummer Night (Kresna noc), and the burning of a bonfire on the night before the 1st of May (Celebration of Work Day). The legend goes that the month May was named after the Slavic goddess Maja. She wanted nature to grow and flourish, but she needed the sun. Because Kresnik is a god associated with fire, summer solstice and storms, she asked him to lend her his power. As a reminder of this story, bonfires (“kres”) are lighted on the last day of April, to bring us warm weather and an abundance of greenery.
Siposh’s film tells the story with the theme of bonfire in mind. The timeline of the movie is set on the shortest night of the year, the eve of summer solstice (around 21 June), Midsummer Night. Three boys and their grandfather are sitting around the crackling fire, sharing ancient legends. The old man explains them the symbolism of the fire on this particular night, its importance to help the sun stay up in the sky as long as it can, and its power to defeat evil spirits. In the spirit of storytelling, one of the boys shares an anecdote of wolves stalking the nearby forest, announcing their presence with spine-chilling howls. The recurrent theme of bonfire is also visible in the official release date of the film; 22 June 2014, the summer solstice.
Although the theme of fire carries a strong presence throughout the story, we also notice the motif of growing up. At first, Peter seems to be rejected by his cousins, who don’t think of him as equal. His grandfather orders him to spend the night camping outside, with his two cousins Igor and Stefan. Secretly, the two boys try to sneak out of the tent in the middle of the night, but they accidentally wake up Peter. In order to keep him quiet, they take him with them to a deer stand. We learn that they were told that there will be a lot of deer and other animals in the woods tonight, which is why Igor brought a rifle.
Hunting was, and still is, a part of the rites of passage from boyhood to manhood. It is quite obvious that Peter is still perceived as a small boy, and that the camping out and hunting is his cousin’s attempt to invite and include him into the brotherhood of men. Both Igor and Stefan pull the trigger of the rifle and fire into the pitch black night. When the gun is passed down to Peter, he can’t manage to do the same. Therefore, in the eyes of his cousins, he failed the brotherhood test. Once again he seems to be the runt of the family, and is left behind, alone in the forest.
In a dream-like sequence, Peter is confronted by a girl with flowers in her hair. She has the appearance of a fairy, although she is supposedly an elf. The girl leads Peter towards a clearing in the middle of the woods, where we encounter an ancient Slavic ritual. People, dressed in white gowns like druids, are dancing around the bonfire and singing. Symbolically and literally, a torch is passed down to a boy of Peter’s age. He then jumps over the fire and is greeted by an elderly man on the other side. The torch is then placed into Peter’s hands, accompanied with the words “It’s your turn now,” Here we can assume that Peter got another chance at stepping into manhood; not only will he prove his worth, the fire will also cleanse him of evil spirits.
This particular scene (fairies or elves dancing around the fire) reminds us of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The similarities between the two lie not only in the dancing scene, but also in the timeline; both are happening on a Midsummer Night. The characters are placed in a forest, which serves as the perfect platform in which to get lost and find that someone or something you are looking for. The mysteriousness of the forest only compliments the mythological creatures, and makes their presence quite magical.
Peter is startled by the snarling of wolves, hiding in the shadows. Like a dream, elves are swept away by a gush of wind, and he is left alone to face his fears and defeat the demons. He uses the torch to fight away the black demonic beings, and thus realizes the power of fire. After this scene, he finally takes a leap over the fire, landing safely in the place of manhood.
Siposh says that the most important lesson of the film is to overcome your fears and to grow up - and that sometimes this shows to be quite difficult. Sometimes our way to growing up is filled with demons, which make this harder than it should be, but the important thing is to never give up.
The twenty-two minute-long film was made in just seven days, and although it was filmed in August, the nights were extremely cold, which made it difficult for the child actors, because they had to wear shorts and t-shirts. The look of the three cousins recalls The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, which is not so strange, since the series were one of the director’s favorite books to read as a child. Costumes of the characters make us question the era in which this story is placed, and our suspicion is confirmed when we read in the description that the story is set in the Slovenian countryside during the 70s. Much like in The Famous Five series, the boys are on a vacation and quickly pulled into an adventure. Siposh’s love of the Harry Potter books appears to be a factor as well; the film has a touch of magic. The magical creatures and events are drawn from Slavic mythology, which came across spontaneously. “When we found the rich mythology of our nation, we knew right away that this is the right course to take,” says the young director.
Mitja Mlakar’s charming visual effects are accompanied by Tim Zibart’s music, which creates a gorgeous atmospheric symphony of the two. The theme song is performed by Eurovision finalist Maja Keuc, and her voice only compliments the mystical world of our Slavic ancestors and the magic of fire.
Despite all this, this film is not without its flaws. I quite enjoy a Slovenian movie in which characters tend not to speak overly “proper” Slovene, since in real life almost no one does. Grammatically correct Slovene makes the dialogue in the film seem robotic, stiff. The use of different dialects was an interesting choice, and while it was mostly enjoyable, it may have been a bit overused.
One of the things that I enjoyed the most was the storytelling power of Dare Valic. His voice has a perfect shade of velvet, which fits the character of grandfather like a charm. Valic has a distinctive voice, known through many generations of viewers, and to me it sounds like, or rather reminds me of, Slovenian movies from my childhood.
The fine execution of the film is the cause of its success at various competitions: in 2014 Kresnik: The Lore of Fire won the Best Sci-Fi award at ITSA Film Festival; in 2015 the film was awarded the Sixth Sense by Fort Worth Indie Film Showcase, it won the Best Narrative Short at Arlington International Film Festival; and, the last but not least, in December 2015 Kresnik was the winner of Best Cinematography at the Big As Texas Short Film Festival.
This film is a little slice of life of sadly-forgotten Slovenian mythology. We have a rich and brilliant history, which is buried under years of oppression, different religions and cultures. Many people believe that the statues of dragons in Ljubljana (Slovenia’s capital city) are there as a symbol of Saint George defeating a dragon, but the dragons guard our city as a symbol of our ancient pagan history, as a sign of rebellion against enforced culture. We don’t think of our earliest culture, yet we pass its hidden symbols almost every day, almost everywhere. Kresnik: The Lore of Fire is a lovely reminder of Slovenian roots, the mystical magic of fire and the hardships of growing up.