Jan Svankmajer

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
6.9 Alice (1988)
7.5 Lesson Faust (1994)
8.0 Conspirators of Pleasure (1996)
6.5 Little Otik (2000)
7.2 Lunacy (2005)
7.0 Surviving Life (2010)

If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me.
Jan Svankmajer (Czech, 1934) debuted with animated shorts like Posledni Trik Pana Schwarcewalldea a Pana Edgara/ The Last Trick (1964), Spiel mit Steinen/ Games With Stones (1965), Rakvikarna/ Punch and Judy (1966), Byt/ The Flat (1968), Zahrada/ The Garden (1968), Picknick mit Weissmann/ Picnic with Weissmann (1968), Tichy Tyden v Dome/ A Quiet Week in the House (1969), Don Sajn Don Juan (1970), Kostnice/ The Ossuary (1970), Zvahlav Aneb Saticky Slameneho Huberta/ Jabberwocky (1971), Leonarduv denik/ Leonardo's Diary (1972), Otrantsky Zamek/ Castle of Otranto (1973), Zanik Domu Usheru/ The Fall of the House of Usher (1980), Moznosti Dialogu/ Dimensions of Dialogue (1982), perhaps his most famous short, Do Pivnice/ Down to the Cellar (1983), another one of the best, Kyvadlo, Jama a Nadeje/ The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope (1983), Muzne Hry/ Virile Games (1988), Zamilovane Maso/ Meat Love (1988), Tma Svetlo Tma/ Darkness Light Darkness (1989), Flora (1989), Konec Stalinismu v Cechach/ The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (1990), Jidlo/ Food (1992), one of his most famous tributes to the theater of the absurd, etc.

His first full-length film was Neco z Alenky/ Alice (1988), based on Lewis Carroll's classic. The film mixes live action with stop-motion animation and has a wildly anarchic plot that would have pleased the surrealists of the 1930s. It is only a bit too loose.

While the title are rollins we see Alice's mouth who tells us that we're about to see a film but we have to close our eyes else we won't see anything. When the titles end, the camera gives us a tour of a room and focuses on toys, a rat trap, masks, a cup of tea, dolls. Alice is throwing stones in the cup of tea. A stuffed rabbit in a cage starts moving and opens a chest. The rabbit puls out gloves, vest and hat and wears them. Then he breaks the glass of the cage with scissors and walks away. He leaves Alice's house and ventures away in a rocky landscape towards a desk. He claps and the drawer opens. He pulls out a pocket watch. Alice calls him and he, scared, locks himself in the drawer. Alice runs out of the house and to the desk. She claps but the drawer doesn't open. She pulls with all her strength until it opens and then she drops inside. She keeps crawling and finds herself in a large tunnel She finds the rabbit eating from a pot like an old man and checking the time in his pocket watch. The rabbit claps and a drawer opens. When she speaks, the scared rabbit hides away. Alice tastes his soup but it's just sawdust. Alice accidentally falls into a wastebasket and finds herself into an elevator that slowly descends a dark shaft. Each floor is a shelf full of objects, mostly cabinet of curiosities. At the first floor the bottom opens and she falls onto a pile of leaves inside a room. Alice tries the door but it is locked. The rabbit emerges from the leaves and checks his pocket watch. A drawer opens and sucks all the leaves. The drawer closes and Alice finds herself alone with a desk. She opens the bigger drawer and finds a key inside. She opens the door but the door turns out to be a tiny door on the other side. She can see the rabbit stepping into a stage whose background is a painted garden. The rabbit checks his watch, as usual. Alice closes the door and finds a bottle of ink in the drawer. She tastes it and gets transformed into a miniature doll. Unfortunately she is now too small to reach the key that she left on the desk. She drinks the ink again and grows very big, so big that her head hits the ceiling. She opens the door and she sees the rabbit again in the room with the stage. She tries in vain to grab the rabbit. She starts crying. She floods the room with tears until only her head sticks out. A mouse toy swims to her and climbs her head. He opens his chest and builds a campfire on top of her head. She gets upset and bends into the water to kick the mouse away. The rabbit rows into the flooded room in a small boat. Again, he checks his watch. He almost hits her. Then he swims again scared crashing through the painted garden and leaving behind a plate of cookies. Alice eats a cookie and turns again into a little doll. She is attacked by vicious birds but manages to use the desk as a raft. Being on top of the desk, she can grab the key and open the door. Now she is the right size to go through. She finds herself in a idyllic garden. All the objects of the room are floating away in a creek. The rabbit arrives in his boat and anchors nearby. This time he is not scared to see the girl because she is smaller than him. Their conversation is related by the mouth of Alice (shown in close up). The rabbit mistakes the doll-like Alice as his servant Mary Anne. He sends her to pick up his scissors. She walks through another painted garden and finds herself into the rabbit's house. She finds a bell and rings it twice. A ladder is dropped for her. She climbs it and finds herself in a nice bedroom. She opens the drawer of the desk (as usual, she has to break it) and finds lots of scissors but also a bottle of ink. She drinks it and swells to her normal size, so again her head hits the ceiling. The rabbit looks for her and tries in vain to open the door of the room. Alice barricades herself inside. Trying to open the door, the rabbit "wounds" himself and has to sow the fabric back to avoid dripping his sawdust innards. The rabbit keeps checking his watch, afraid of being late for something. The rabbit tries in vain to enter from the window. The rabbit then whistles and a coach manned by a skeleton-like coachman delivers a group of animal skeletons that come to help the rabbit break into the room. Once that strategy fails too, the rabbit begins to throw stones at the window. Each stone turns into a cookie. She eats one and turns again into the doll. Now she can leave the room through the door. She sneaks out while the rabbit is sowing a lizard that she injured. The animal skeletons and the rabbit chase her and corner her in a basement. Even a winged flying cage attacks her. They cause her to fall into a pot of milk. She becomes a giant doll and seems to drop dead. The animals store her into a closet. The human Alice breaks out from inside the doll Alice. Among many odd things (including a piece of meat that crawls away), she finds cookies and ink but this time is wise enough not to eat them. She opens a sardine can and finds a key inside. She opens the door and walks outside, finding the mouse dead in a trap. She finds lots of shoes outside a door, removes her own and walks in. There's a desk in the middle of the room. Strange animals (giant worms wearing socks) bore holes in the floor and jump in and out of the holes around the desk. She opens the desk's drawer and finds eyes and a denture that enter a sock and crawl away. This caterpillar-sock sits on top of a wooden mushroom and starts talking to her. The caterpillar falls asleep, the rabbit comes out of the drawer to pick up the scissors from the top of the desk. Alice tastes the mushroom and every bite causes Christmas trees to grow and shrink. Alice hears a baby cry and finds a tiny house that is shaking violently. She eats a little more of the mushroom so that the house grows to a rabbit size. Someone throws all sorts of objects out of the window while the baby continues to cry. Alice hides when a fish footman walks into the room and knocks at the door of the small house. A frog footman opens the door of the small house. The fish delivers to the frog an invitation from the queen for Alice. The frog footman starts chasing insects around the room (which is littered with all the objects thrown out of the small house). Alice opens the door of the small house and finds the rabbit taking care of the bay. He throws objects at her to keep her outside. Then the baby walks out and it's a piglet. Alice opens the queen's invitation but only finds a blank page. She then follows the piglet that is still crying as it is walking down the stairs. She runs into a room where a mechanical theater of marionettes, consisting of a Mad Hatter and a March Hare, is staging breakfast. The Mad Hatter, who has the pocket watch of the rabbit, pulls out the White Rabbit from its hat. The March Hare spreads butter on pocket watches and eats them like toasts while the Mad Hatter keeps pinning pocket watches to his chest. The rabbit looks again at his pocket watch and runs away, chased by Alice. They enter the painted garden, the stage of a play performed silently by playing cards. The queen of hearts sentences the jacks to be beheaded and the White Rabbit turns out to be the executioner, who beheads the jacks with his scissors. Then the stage changes to a card game between the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. The queen orders them to be beheaded too and the rabbit cuts their heads with his scissors. However, the two marionettes are still alive and grab the heads from the floor, except that each picks the wrong head. Then they continue to play their card game. The queen finally acknowledges the presence of Alice and invites her to play with the other cards. The queen keeps sentencing people to be beheaded by the rabbit and eventually, after a trial, it is Alice's turn too, accused of eating the royal cookies, even though she is simply following a script delivered to her by the rabbit. Told by the king to stick to the script, Alice eats more cookies while all the animal skeletons, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare are watching excited. Then Alice wakes up in her room: it was just a nightmare and all its protagonists were toys in her room. But the glass cage of the stuffed rabbit is indeed broken as if it escaped. In the cage she finds the rabbit's scissors. She remarks that the rabbit is late (so he was checking the pocket watch for an appointment with her) and that the punishment will be that she will behead it.

Svankmajer took a break from animation to direct Lekce Faust/ Lesson Faust (1994), a film of mostly live action. Stop-motion effects are seamlessly integrated in the live action. It's another delirious revisitation of a well-known story. Svankmajer's Faust is an everyman imprisoned in a Kafkaesque universe (perhaps an allegory of communism), unlike Marlowe's and Goethe's Fausts who were intellectuals of a relatively simple society. We are told nothing about his past, his private life, his profession. He has to deal with a God and a Devil who are both puppets, both manipulated by an invisible puppeteer. And we are shown that there are many puppets hiding in the city. The narration is a wild and eccentric accumulation of symbols. While this Lesson Faust suffers from the same anarchic chaos of Alice, here the sensory overload of allegorical details composes a monumental philosophical poem.

Two men are handing out strange fliers that simply contain a map to passersby. A middle-aged man picks us up and tosses it away. He walks home and sees a woman holding a baby and dragging a doll down the stairs. He opens the door of his apartment and a chicken comes out. He kicks it out. He watches from the window as three kids try to catch the chicken. The chicken has caused quite a mess in his apartment and he proceeds to clean upThen he sits down and eats a frugal dinner while leafing through the mail. He finds another copy of the map and again tosses it away. He notices an egg inside his loaf of bread. The egg is intact. He cracks it open and finds that there's only the shell, nothing inside. Suddenly a strong wind causes the light to go off and furniture to fly all over the room. The two men who were distributing fliers (and who have now captured the chicken) are staring at his apartment with a strange smile on their face. The man picks up the map from the wastebasket and studies it. The following morning he walks to the location marked on the map. He finds a dilapidated building that seems ready to collapse. He looks at some apples and they rot immediately. He opens the front door and is almost hit by a man who is running out. He sees a woman at a window and meets a man in the courtyard. We don't hear what they say but the protagonist walks descends the stairs to a dark basement. He finds a key and opens a locked door. He finds a charred manuscript. He finds a robe and wears it. He finds a switch and turns on the light. He finds a box with make-up and paints his cheek white. He finds a wig, a beard and a cap and wears all of them in front of a mirror. He admires himself for a while in front of the mirror. He opens the fridge, as if he knew the contents, and drinks a beer. He begins to read the charred manuscript. We finally hear some words: he reads the memoirs of Faust that begin with his profession to practice black magic and alchemy. He can only finish a few sentences before an alarm goes off. He walks outside the room and finds himself in the dressing room of a theater where half-naked girls scream seeing him. He then walks on stage. The audience is entering the theater. He removes his costume and wipes his face and returns to be a normal person. But he also pulls out a knife from his pocket, rips the backdrop and walks into the hole that he made. He finds himself in a dark corridor. At the end he descends into a laboratory lit by candles. There's a fire in the fireplace and a thick book is open on the table. It looks like a medieval room of alchemy. Within a flask a piece of clay self-organizes into a baby. The man reads instructions in the book and the baby comes alive. The baby sits on the book and starts growing rapidly. The baby's face is morphing into his own so the man destroys it. A giant angel head rolls through the garden towards the house and drops on the body of a puppet. The lifesize puppet admonishes him, calling him Faust, to abandon alchemy and return to theology (we only see the hands of the puppeteer) and promises a reward in the afterlife. Then its head rolls away again. Now a giant demon head rolls towards the house and Faust is confronted by a demon puppet that, instead, encourages him to indulge in dark magic and promises a reward in this life. Again, we only see the hands of the puppeteer. Another lifesize puppet walks on stage to announced that two friends, Cornelio and Valdes, are waiting to deliver important news. Faust walks away and sees that on stage the puppeteer is telling the story of Faust. Faust exits the backstage as the performance continues. He meets Cornelio and Valdes at a table that seems to be inside the restrooms. They turn out to be the two men who were distributing flyers. They silently leave him a leather briefcase. On the way out, past the urinals, a female janitor begs for a tip. Faust climbs collapsing stairs and opens the briefcase. He finds magical veils, robes and tools in the briefcase. He reads from a book a magical spell in Latin until thick smoke, drumming and arrows shot by crossbows announce the arrival of Mephistopheles on a flaming chariot while Faust briefly finds himself transported in a landscape of giant rocks. Mephisto (whose claymation face at one point morphs into Faust's) tells Faust that he is only Lucifer's messenger. Faust gives him a message for Lucifer: Faust wants Mephisto to serve him for 24 years and provide absolute voluptuousness and then Faust will surrender his soul to Lucifer. Mephisto disintegrates into lumps of clay that crawl away like rodents. Faust leaves the theater where the puppeteers is continuing his puppet show. Backstage Faust sees a demon puppet remove his coat and run on stage, like a real actor would do. Outside the theater Cornelius and Valdes are still distributing the flyers. Faust smokes a cigarette by the entrance and sees two more men enter the theater, remove their coats and shoes, thus revealing that they are puppets, and then run on stage where they join the show. A magic word pronounced by the puppet Faust causes them to abandon the stage, wear their coat and shoes, and walk out in the street. A red car stops to pick them up. Back in the streets, Faust runs into a tramp who is disposing of a human leg in a garbage can. Faust sits at a restaurant table. Cornelius and Valdes are the waiters delivering his food: Faust finds a key inside a dumpling. Meanwhile, at another table the tramp is attacked by a black dog that is attracted by the severed leg. The tramp runs out of the restaurant but the dog chases him until he throws the leg off a bridge. Faust uses the key to open the lock of a shop. Two men grab him and take him to a dressing room while four classical ballerinas runs on stage. Faust is forced to wear a costume and pushed on stage, where he is instructed to mime a song from Gounod's opera "Faust" in front of a attentive audience. A thunderstorm scares the ballerinas away. Mephisto reappears and demands that Faust signs the contract in blood. Faust accepts and a mask drops on his face, turning him into the Faust puppet that has been performing the show on stage, facing the Lucifer puppet. That's where the contract is signed by the two lifesize puppets while tiny puppets fight all around them. Faust then removes the mask and demands to be revealed all the mysteries of the universe. In the dressing room he is visited by a triple mirror reflection of Mephisto and engages in a philosophical discussion from which Faust concludes that the devil knows no more than humans do. The alarm goes off and Faust returns to the stage. We catch a glimpse of the audience in the dark. The puppet show resumes with Faust's visit to the king of Portugal. The Mephisto and Faust puppets fly to Portugal and the action moves to the royal gardens, where the puppets keep performing despite a real baby who is crying in a stroller pushed by a woman whose face we don't see. Angered by the king, Faust orders Mephisto to drown everybody in a flood. The action returns to the theater, with the human Faust walking backstage to the bathroom. The flood turns out to be a faucet left running in the theater's bathroom. Then Faust has another philosophical discussion with a claymotion face of Lucifer until Faust throws it away. The angel head rolls down again and enters again a puppet body. This time it presents to Faust a portrait of Jesus and then asks Faust to repent. The demon interferes. The puppeteer prepares a puppet of Helen of Troy and then makes it walk on stage and converse with the Faust puppet. He runs after her into the gardens that lie beyond the backdrop of the stage until she falls into a ruined well. Faust can now kiss her and make love to her. All the time we see the wires that the puppeteer uses to move the Helen puppet. After having sex with her, Faust realizes that he made love to a demon puppet. Faust complains to Lucifer that he has been humiliated. Lucifer responds by demanding his soul because the 24 days have elapsed and then leaves the stage. Faust tells Mephisto to find two strong men willing to save him from Lucifer. The Mephisto puppet runs outside the theater into the streets of the city asking ordinary passersby whether they are willing to save his master (in a scene that feels like hidden camera reality television). Meanwhile, Cornelius and Valdes walk into the theater carrying two new lifesize puppets in a sack, Claude and Hoper. These puppets join human Faust backstage as his bodyguards for the night. Faust locks himself in his dressing room and reads the charred manuscript of the beginning. The Lucifer puppet attacks the bodyguard puppets. Faust sets fire to the manuscript. The alarm goes off. Lucifer attacks blowing fire against the bodyguards (a theater attendant promptly intervenes with a fire extinguisher). Faust runs out of the theater. He runs into a man who just walked in holding the map in his hand (presumably a new victim of Mephisto) and is run over by the red car that was giving rides to puppets. There is no driver inside the car. The tramp rushes to steal a severed leg. Cornelius and Valdes watch the scene smiling.

Spiklenci Slasti/ Conspirators of Pleasure (1996) is completely wordless. Not a word is spoken.

In un'edicola un uomo di mezza eta` consulta le riviste porno e ne acquista una. Il proprietario dell'edicola ammicca e, appena il cliente lascia il negozio, si rimette al lavoro a un circuito elettronico che tiene nascosto sotto il banco. A casa, il primo uomo sfoglia la rivista e ogni tanto lancia uno sguardo colmo di cupigia verso l'armadio. Finalmente si spoglia ed entra nell'armadio, dove si masturba. Viene interrotto dalla postina, che gli consegna con sguardo malizioso (come se sapesse qualcosa) una lettera. La lettera contiene soltanto le parole "a domenica". La postina scende le scale e poi si nasconde nell'androne a fare palline con la mollica di un pane, come se si trattasse di qualcosa di illegale. L'uomo intanto si precipita in un negozio a comprare tre ombrelli. Il giornalaio chiude il negozio e si precipita a casa, dove usa il circuito elettronico per mettere a punto una sua costruzione. Ha un grande schermo sul quale guarda il telegiornale, estasiato dalla bella presentatrice. Il suo cliente tiene una gallina in cucina. La porta dalla vicina, una grassona sguaiata, che gliela sgozza sul pianerottolo. L'uomo raccoglie accuratamente il sangue che sgorga dal collo mozzo. La postina, terminato il primo pane, ne compra dell'altro e continua a fare palline, sempre con aria furtiva. L'uomo spenna la gallina. Un altro uomo compie piccoli furti senza ragione. Adesso ruba un secchiello di attrezzi a dei muratori Il primo uomo, usando materiali di fortuna, costruisce una scultura che e` una gallina e alla fine si rivela essere un copricapo. Il ladro ruba la coda di una pelliccia, nonche' una decina di preservativi, poi torna a casa e si chiude in garage. Sua moglie e` la presentatrice e piange sola in camera da letto. Il giornalaio lavora sempre alla sua macchina, che e` composta da un cervello elettronico da una serie di braccia meccaniche. Mentre lavora, continua a seguire il telegiornale e a trasecolare davanti all'immagine della presentatrice. Il primo uomo vede la vicina uscire e ne approfitta per intrufolarsi nel suo appartamento. La camera e` immonda e caotica. L'uomo lacera gli ombrelli e usa la macchina da cucire. Alla fine ha fatto due ali. Apre l'armadio e vede sul fondo un fantoccio d'uomo, che lo fa rabbrividire. Prende un vestito della donna e scappa. La vicina prende paglia dalla spazzatura. La presentatrice ha comprato due pesci. Dalla finestra sorveglia cosa fa il marito in garage, sempre con aria sconsolata. Il ladro sta usando tutti i pezzi che ha rubato per costruire strani aggeggi. E` domenica. Il primo uomo si veste a festa e imballa il copricapo, piatti, bicchieri, un pasto a base di gallina e una busta di fangue in una valigia, a cui lega anche una sedia. Poi entra nell'armadio con i vestiti della vicina. Il ladro sta girando per la citta` alla ricerca di un'altra coda di pelliccia e quasi investe la vicina che sta rientrando. La vicina si reca in un'umile cappella, accende i suoi ceri ed entra anche lei in un armadio. Il primo uomo invece guida fino a un campo. Li` pone sulla sedia un manichino che assomiglia alla vicina, al quale ha infilato i vestiti presi da lei, e la lega. Indossa le ali e il copricapo. L'edicolaio fa gli ultimi ritocchi al suo robot, mentre il telegiornale finisce. La vicina si e` cambiata e ora indossa una maschera e brandisce una frusta. Tira fuori dall'armadio anche un manichino che assomiglia al vicino, e il manichino si muove., terrorizzato. Il vicino a sua volta sta volando attorno al suo manichino, anch'esso terrorizzato, tanto piu` che lui palleggia un masso pesantissimo. Il copricapo sembra dargli il potere di volare e la forza di sollevare macigni. La postina e` tornata a casa, si spoglia sul letto. La postina pone le palline di mollica in un bacile e si infila due tubi nelle narici. Con questi aspira le palline nel naso. Poi con un imbuto si infila altre palline nelle orecchie. Poi si tappa orecchie e narici con altre palline, si distende sul letto ed entra in trance come una drogata. La vicina costringe il suo manichino a spogliarsi, tremante. Lo frusta e ogni colpo danneggia la stoffa e mostra la paglia sottostante. Lui d'altronde sta terrorizzando il suo manichino, sempre legato alla sedia, in maniera non meno sadica. La postina si risveglia, soffia fuori le palline. La presentatrice piange. La postina le porta un pacco dentro cui ci sono le palline di mollica, che lei da` in pasto ai pesci. Il primo uomo pone sotto il cappellino del suo manichino la busta con il sangue della gallina. La presentatrice e il ladro a letto. Lei e` frustrata, lui la ignora e a un certo punto si alza e se ne va in garage. Li` si massaggia nudo con gli attrezzi pazzeschi che ha costruito. La vicina affoga il fantoccio in un bacile d'acqua sul quale ha acceso tre candele. Spegne le candele, si riveste. Il ladro usa attrezzi sempre piu` dolorosi per massaggiarsi il corpo in un delirio di piacere. Il primo uomo vola in alto portando il masso, poi lo lascia cadere sulla testa del suo manichino. Il manichino si accascia e dalla testa sgorga il sangue della gallina. Seve alla donna il cibo che si era portato dietro. Il giorno dopo l'edicolaio si sveglia e accende la televisione. Quando la presentatrice va in onda, lui si spoglia e attiva la macchina: le braccia lo accarezzano dappertutto. Quando la presentatrice scompare dallo schermo, lui fa colazione. Non appena riappare, si alza e attiva la macchina. Poco a poco le carezze diventano masturbazione vera e propria. In studio anche lei si sta masturbando ma tramite i pesci che le succhiano gli alluci. Cosi` sullo schermo gigante dell'edicolaio si vede lei venire proprio mentre lui viene. Rientrando a casa, il primo uomo urta la postina che sta ammirando dei pesci in vetrina e butta della paglia nella spazzatura. L'uomo va dall'edicolaio ma questa volta compra una rivista di elettronica. L'edicolaio sta lavorando a una scultura con piume di gallina... i protagonisti si stanno scambiando i rituali. A casa l'uomo vede un'ambulanza e poi fli infermieri che portano la lettiga con la vicina, morta. Sale di sopra e vde la polizia che sta misurando la scena. C'e` un masso nel mezzo della stanza e una pozza di sangue. L'ispettore di polizia e` il marito della presentatrice. Lui entra nel suo appartamento e vi trova un bacile d'acqua sormontato da tre candele... Lui si spoglia e l'armadio si apre... Il fatto che si scambino i rituali e il modo in cui ammiccano l'uno all'altro fa capire che sono tutti d'accordo, tutti sanno l'uno dell'altro. E` una colossale cospirazione del piacere. I rituali dei due vicini sono simmetrici, ed e` ovvio che lei prova disprezzo per lui e non vede l'ora di umiliarlo e lui prova paura di lei e non vede l'ora di vendicarsi. Nei loro rituali si sfogano questi desideri. Non ci sono dialoghi, ne` monologhi. Il tema dominante del film non e` il sesso ma la sua assenza, forse anche impossibilita`. Il sesso e` tutto monosessuale, nel senso che nessuna delle coppie si accoppia. Persino marito e moglie non fanno l'amore. Tutti si masturbano piu` o meno segretamente. Sono esseri estremamente introversi, che non sanno esprimersi in pubblico. E la masturbazione acquista una valenza anche di comunicazione con il resto del mondo. Il modo in cui mettono a punto la propria masturbazione diventa una rivelazione della propria personalita`, esattamente come per altri puo` essere la carriera o l'arte. Il livello di dettaglio nel descrivere i preparativi per questi rituali amorali e` tanto delirante quanto i rituali stessi. Il regista gode nel seguire minuziosamente le azioni demenziali dei protagonisti. E` tramite questi complicati preparativi che uno puo` capite la personalita` degli individui, non tramite l'atto sessuale in se`. Nel finale la mano del cartoonista prende il sopravvento, e cosi` la fantasia surrealista. Un grande volo dell'immaginazione.

Stop-motion animation is limited also in Otesanek/ Little Otik (2000), a horror variation on Karel Jaromir Erben's story "Otesanek".

A man watches from a window as women stand in line to buy babies sold like fish and wrapped in newspapers. His wife comes out of the doctor's office crying. Karel and Bozena cannot have children. Driving home, Karel almost kills little girl Alzbetka who runs in the street to pick up her ball. They live in the same building. Alzbetka cries at home because she's the only child in the tenement. When she walks down the stairs, an old neighbor, Zlabek, puts glasses on to see her better and she imagines that he has an erection and wants to touch her. At home, Bozena cries in front of the clothes she already bought for a baby. Karel opens a watermelon and imagines there's a baby inside. Alzbetka seems to know a lot about sexual dysfunctions and her father finds out that she is reading a scholarly book on the matter. Alzbetka's parents invite the childless couple to the countryside because they feel sorry for them. Karel buys a house in the countryside. He digs up a tree stump in the backyard which he imagines as a baby. Alzbetka, who is playing with a doll, sees him. Alzbetka and her parents return to the town. Karel takes the baby in his worshop and a few hours later he has turned the stump into a painted wooden baby. His wife Bozena is delighted to see it and treats it like a real baby. She can finally use all the baby clothes that she bought. When it's time to drive home, she carries the wooden baby with her. Karel loses his patience and slams it on a table to prove that it is just a piece of wood. She stops him sobbing. he then tries persuasion. He locks it in a closet and promises that they will come back every weekend for it. Back home Karel is shocked to learn that Bozena has told the neighbors that she is pregnant. Afraid that they will become the laughing stock of the tenement, he implores Bozena to tell the neighbor that it was a false alarm, but she is determined to continue with the pretense. She even created eight pillows of different sizes to hide under her gown and make her look pregnant. Karel cannot dissuade her. One day in the countryside Alzbetka sees Bozena without the pillow and rocking the baby, so she runs to announce to her mother that Bozena already had a baby. It's only the fourth month and her mother doesn't believe her. Alzbetka remains curious and asks her parents whether babies can come out temporarily of the mother's belly before being born. When they hear about the pregnancy, Karel's colleagues improvise a drinking party to celebrate Karel's forthcoming fatherhood, and Karel returns home drunk. Alone with Karel, Bozena keeps treating the piece of wood like a real baby. She even bathes it lovingly and carefully. She tells Karel she was to give birth prematurely and, sure enough, one day he comes home to find that she is screaming and having the contractions. like she's giving birth. She fakes it so well that the neighbors help her down the stairs. Even alone with her husband in the car, she keeps faking it. Karel drives her to the country home where the "baby" is stored and leaves her there for a week, pretending that she's at the hospital. When he returns to his tenement and the neighbors want news, he fakes a phone call to the hospital and announces that the baby was born. But Alzbetka sees very well that the telephone is disconnected. Knowing that Karel is lying, she asks Karel what he will name the baby and he replies Otik, like the one in the fairy tale. Karel drives to the country home. When he opens the door, the cat runs out terrified. Karel finds Bozena nursing a real baby: Otik is no longer a piece of wood. Karel grabs an axe and tries to destroy the baby that now is a convulsing and whining piece of wood. She stops him and forces him to help her care for the "baby". She also demands that he paints him anew and cuts a third "arm" that has been growing. To hide from the neighbors the fact that it's a piece of wood, she keeps the baby wrapped in clothes. Karel knows that it's madness and can't last forever, but goes along with Bozena's folly. Otik grows real teeth and starts eating anything, even Bozena's hair. Otik is insatiable. One day, as Bozena is buying food and left Otik outside in the stroller, Alzbetka removes a sock and finds a wooden tentacle instead of a foot. She reads the fairy tale of Otesanek and figures out the connection. In the fairy tale Otesanek grows more and more ferocious until he eats even his "mother" and his "father". The neighbors notice that Bozena comes home with bigger and bigger shopping bags and that she doesn't take Otik out in the stroller anymore. One day Bozena and Karel find Otik snoring and body parts of the cat lying on the floor: he ate the cat. Alzbetka keeps reading the fairy tale in which Otik keeps eating people (we see it as an animated cartoon). Karel would like to kill Otik but Bozena begs him not to. To pretend that nothing is wrong, Bozena goes out with an empty stroller. Predicting that Otik will do what Otesanek does in the fairy tale, Alzbetka asks her parents if anyone has gone missing in the neighborhood. While Karel and Bozena are out, a mailman rings the bell. When they come home, the apartment is a mess and Otik is snoring next to the remains of the mailman. Alzbetka is spying and sees that something is amiss in their apartment but gets distracted by the old paedophile, Zlabek, who has a heart attack lusting after her legs. Bozena still defends Otik and asks Karel to deliver the mail so nobody will notice that the mailman didn't deliver the mail. The following day, however, Alzbetka overhears that the mailman has been missing and she knows why. Alzbetka tries in vain to warn her parents. She knows they'd never believe her. A curious neighbor, old woman Spravcova, finds out that there is only a doll inside the stroller that Bozena pushes outside. She reports it to the police, fearing that Bozena may have killed and buried her baby. Someone calls the doctor who examined Bozena. He confirms that both Bozena and Karel suffered from infertility: it's impossible that she had a baby. A social worker is dispatched to check on the baby Otik. Bozena tries to resist opening the door but the social worker sneaks in. The social worker finds an enormous amount of food being prepared in the kitchen, mostly meat. Bozena tries in vain to stop the social worker: A giant Otik eats her alive. Alzbetka again is spying and guesses what happened. She knows that Karel is coming home with backpacks and bags full of meat for the baby. Alzbetka keeps reading the fairy tale. Karel has had enough. One night Karel ties up the giant Otik while it's asleep and carries it inside a sack to the basement of the tenement. Alzbetka wakes up and sees everything. Karel wants to starve Otik to death despite Bozena's protestations. Alzbetka secretly visits Otik in the basement and unties it. She manages to communicate with Otik, explaining that she wants to help it and it should not eat her. She brings him food and toys (and first washes its roots/hands). Alarmed that in the fairy tale an old woman who grows cabbages is the one who kills Otik, she warns Otik never to eat the cabbages of the old woman Spravcova. Alzbetka justifies her frequent errands to her parents by saying that she has a new friend named Otylka. Cops visit Karel and Bozena. They are investigating the disappearance of the social worker and of the mailman. Karel reassures Bozena: there are no corpses, no evidence of the murders. On the way out the cops see a doll (instead of a baby) in the stroller. Karel disposes of it in the garbage can and old woman Spravcova. sees it. When her mother gets upset that Alzbetka is taking so much food from the fridge, theoretically for her friend Otylka, Alzbetka gets desperate to find food for Otik. First, she breaks her piggy bank to buy food. Then she asks in vain her mom for more money. Eventually, she decides to lure the old paedophile Zlabek in the basement by showing him her legs and then to let Otik out of his cage: Zlabek is quickly devoured. The old woman Spravcova notices the disappearance of the old man and calls the police but there are no traces of what happened to him. Karel, guessing the truth, is devastated by remorse and decides to kill Otik. Karel borrows a chainsaw and descends into the basement. Alzbetka, who was wondering whom to feed next to Otik, is there and hides after telling Otik that food is coming. Karel faces the giant eye of Otik and drops the chainsaw calling it "son", but Otik has no mercy and eats him. Bozena runs down to the basement to see what happened and is the next victim. The police come to investigate the disappearance of Karel and Bozena. The old woman Spravcova connects the dots and asks Alzbetka to hand her the fairy tale of Otesanek. Alzbetka's mom, terrified by all the disappearances, barricades her apartment and forbids Alzbetka to go out, even to school. Alzbetka sees from the window that Otik is eating the cabbages of old woman Spravcova, which in the fairy tale is the act that dooms it. Spravcova, who has read the fairy tale, grabs a shovel and descends into the basement.

Sileni/ Lunacy (2005), whose script was originally written in the 1970s, is loosely based on two short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" (1845) and "The Premature Burial" (1844). It is mainly a parody of all revolutions: the madmen who stage the revolution are no less evil than the ones they removed from power. Humans delude themselves thinking that a revolution can improve the sanity of society but the ones who stage a revolution are often crazier than the existing rulers. Mostly, Svankmajer engineers a journey into human madness. Everybody is crazy, and there seems to be no other state for the human mind. Furthermore, the film takes place in a world populated by pieces of meat that have a life of their own and keep crawling in and out of things.

A young man has a nightmare in which two nurses try to immobilize him in a straitjacket. He has violent convulsions and almost sets fire to his bed. Neighbors arrive to wake him up. People stare at him at the restaurant. A marquis dressed in a 18th-century costume and wig pays his bill and invites him to his table. The young man introduces himself as Jean. The marquis drinks at his mental health and laughs out loud. Every now and then we see meat crawling here and there. A crowd boards a bus. Jean stares at a young blond. The marquis offers him a ride in his 18th-century coach. They ride next to the highway where cars and trucks speed by. Jean tells the marquis that he is returning from his mother's funeral and that his mother died in a mental hospital. Their coach passes by a car that has overturned but they don't stop. Then by a tree on fire. They marquis leaves Jean in the middle of nowhere during a thunderstorm, but then picks him up again and takes him to his palace. We see pieces of meat crawling even in the mud. They enter the house, populate animal skulls and a Roman statue. The marquis invites him to stay a couple of days. From the window he sees that the young blond is being taken into the palace against her will. Jean spies what is happening and sees that the marquis is planting nails in a crucifix and insulting Jesus while some men are eating a cake and the girl, chained to a bed, sucks her thumb. The men are then allowed to rape three women. The blond escapes when they remove her chains but is captured and taken towards the crucifix. Pieces of meat crawl out of the crucifix and turn into puppets dancing in a puppet theater. The following day Jean complains to the marquis that a crime was committed but the marquis defends his actions are natural. The marquis laughs at Jean's scruples and chokes on a banana. Jean rushes to alert the marquis' servant, the mute Dominic, who is playing a strange game of cards, worried that the marquis will die in sin without Catholic confession. Too late: the marquis is dead. However, he left a farewell letter in which he asks Jean to obey Dominic, no matter how strange his requests may sound. First he helps him load the corpse into a coffin and carry it outside. When Jean hesitates, Dominic pulls out a gun. When Jean tries to run away, Dominic shoots and wounds him. Dominic carries out an odd funeral ceremony and they bury the coffin in the marquis' stone mausoleum. Throughtout these operations we see meat and eyes move around and even enter cow skulls. The two sleeps on two chairs until the morning when a bell wakes them up. Dominic takes him back to the mausoleum where the bell is ringing nonstop. They find the Marquis perfectly alive, eating a large meal and laughing out loud. Jean is revolted by the macabre joke but the marquis explains that it was a therapeutic exercise for him and he just needed Jean's muscles to carry it out. His mother died when he was five years old and his father died a few years later. When they buried his father in the mausoleum, they found her mother's corpse outside the coffin, trying to climb out of the hermetically sealed stone entrance. She died asphyxiated. The doctor determined that hers had been a case of catalepsy mistaken for death. The marquis is haunted by episodes of catalepsy and this is his way to exorcise the psychosis. The marquis implies that Jean is suffering of the same trauma: the death of his mother. We see pieces of meat climbing a wallclock and hide inside it making the hands move frenetically. That night Jean has the usual nightmare in which two nurses come out of the wardrobe and try to immobilize him. Dominic and the marquis wake him up. The marquis suggests a possible cure for his trauma. We see a chicken alive, then dead, then roasted. The marquis, dressed again in his costume, takes Jean (on a horse-driven coach) to the remote asylum directed by his friend Dr Murlloppe: the cure consists in having Jean live as a patience in the kind of asylum where his mother lived, and this will prevent Jean from going truly mad. The asylum is infested with all sorts of mad people. The doctor introduces his daughter and helper Charlota. While Jean is talking with the doctor, the marquis observes amused from a window a patient who kills and buries another patient. The doctor gives Jean a tour of the asylum. They see a group of patients who are painting a woman who is tied to a bed. Charlota writes a note for Jean. He reads it and then accepts to stay at the asylum. Jean shows the note to the marquiz: Charlota claims to be kept there against her will. The marquis laughs and tells Jean that Charlota is a nymphomaniac and a congenital liar. Jean spends his first night at the asylum. At night Charlota comes to his room and tells him that the doctor is not her father. Her father and the marquis were both patients of the asylum. They staged a revolt and locked the real doctors and nurses in the basement. The marquis and the doctor want to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their revolt. The marquis uses some patients as models to reenact on a stage the revolt, mimicking the French Revolution. The marquis knows that Charlota told Jean about the revolt but claims that Charlota does so simply to get sexually aroused. We keep seeing pieces of meat come and go. Charlota vists him again at night. Jean is now skeptic about her story because she can't explain how nobody in one year noticed that something was wrong at the asylum: authorities, family members of the patients, ... She takes him to the basement which has been turned into a dungeon. The real doctor and the nurses have been tarred and feathered, reduced to wild animals. She feeds them raw meat through the bars of the dungeon. She doesn't know who has the key of the dungeon. The anniversay celebration begins with a delirious speech by the marquis and the presentation of the live reenaction. Charlota gets attacked by a horny patient and Jean saves her. Murlloppe and the Marquis demand that Charlota follows them to a private meeting. Charlota quickly tells Jean that this is his only chance to free the real doctor and nurses. Charlota is taken away with other girls on the marquis' coach while the patients eat all the food they can find like wild animals. Jean walks away from the chaos and seaches for the key. He finds it inside a pillow and frees the prisoners. Without a word of thanks, the feathered men attack the patients and lock them in the cells. Jean himself is knocked unconscious. When he reawakes, he finds himself in Charlota's arms. The real doctor, Coulmiere, thanks Jean as their heroic savior and explains that Murlloppe used to be an avantgarde psychiatrist but was turned into a psychotic libertine by the marquis and ended up in the asylum. The real doctor, a very religious man, believes in corporal punishment. Jean listens while Charlota caresses him affectionately. Murlloppe and the marquis are taken to the doctor. The doctor condemns Murlloppe to an amputation. The doctor condemns the marquis to treatment number 13. The marquis is terrified and begs Jean for help. He is taken away screaming. Jean asks in vain to be told what is treatment 13. The doctor and Charlota move to the operating room and Jean realizes that he is kept prisoner. The doctor promises that he will be allowed to leave the following morning with the postal truck. Jean looks for Charlota but she is not in her room. He opens the door of the basement and finds Murlloppe bandaged and the marquis unconscious, amid a chaos of chickens. Murlloppe calls Charlota a prostitute. Jean angrily rebates that he is planning to leave with her and marry her. Murlloppe laughs it out and tells him that Charlota Coulmiere's lover. Jean checks the doctor's room and finds them engaging in sadistic sex, with Charlota screaming of pleasure. Jean suffers from another nightmare in which two nurses attack him with straitjackets. He demolishes the room. Coulmiere and the staff awaken him and restrain him. The doctor condemns him to treatment number one. This time Jean is truly trapped in a straitjacket by two nurses.

Prezit svuj Zivot/ Theory and Practice/ Surviving Life (2010)

Hmyz/ Insects (2018), based on Josef and Karel Capek's play "Pictures from the Insects Life"

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )