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Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1989
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Darkness Light Darkness © Jan SvankmajerIn ‘Darkness Light Darkness’ we watch several body parts entering a small room in order to assemble a complete man.

Together with ‘The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia’ (1990), ‘Darkness Light Darkness’ is Švankmajer’s last classic animated short film before he embarked on a career of directing features, which featured less and less animation.

‘Darkness Light Darkness’ is on the same level of virtuosity as ‘Dimensions of Dialogue‘ (1982): its stop motion animation, by star animator Bedřich Glaser, and its sound design, by Ivo Špalj, are both no less than perfect. However, it’s much lighter of tone than the earlier film. In this short film Švankmajer and Bedřich Glaser use a particularly cartoony type of animation. For example, the entry of the genitalia is a hilarious highlight.

Nevertheless, even this film has a darker side: when the man is complete, he completely fills the room, which is way too small for him. We hear him breathing heavily, and can assume he his in great pain in his cramped position. The cartoon ends with this claustrophobic image before darkness enters again. So, somehow, even this enjoyable film tells something about the human condition, how during our lifetimes we can develop ourselves only to end in the eternal dark again…

Because of its unity of space and time, and because of its unique inner logic, ‘Darkness Light Darkness’ is one of the best told animated shorts ever. It shows Švankmajer’s mastery. In that respect it’s unfortunate that in the 1990s he moved on to live action films.

Watch ‘Darkness Light Darkness’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Darkness Light Darkness’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’ and on the DVD ‘Alice’

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Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: September 1988
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Another Kind of Love © Jan Svankmajer‘Another Kind of Love’ is a beautiful result of the glory days of MTV: A video clip by Jan Švankmajer!

Švankmajer treats Hugh Cornwell’s charming if rather forgettable song in his own typical way: the setting is one windowless room, he films the ex-Stranglers singer’s mouth a lot in close-up, there are objects with tongues (in this case singing shoes) and there’s a beautiful clay woman, who shares features with the woman in ‘Dimensions of Dialogue‘ (1982), apparently because the same template has been used.

Highlights form the deformations of the singer’s head, whose features have been reproduced very well in the clay model, and the clip’s finale, in which the woman emerges from the wall to embrace the singer, and drawing him into the wall, leaving the room empty.

Watch ‘Another Kind of Love’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Another Kind of Love’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1988
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Virile Games © Jan SvankmajerŠvankmajer’s films in the communist years preceding the velvet revolution of 1989 show a lighter tone than his earlier films. It’s like one can breath some of the thawing atmosphere in Czechoslovakia during the Perestroika years.

‘Virile games’ is a typical example. Although the film contains some very graphic violence, the film remains a rather cartoony atmosphere, and its end is rather tongue-in-cheek.

In ‘Virile Games’ we follow a mustached man watching a football match on the television. It’s a very weird soccer match, however: all players have the spectator’s face, and scoring happens by killing the opponents. These killings occur in the most bizarre ways, all deforming the opponent’s head till the player drops dead. One opponent for example is killed with cake forms, another by toy train….

In the second half the football match moves to the spectator’s own home, and the killing continues with the man’s own kitchen tools. However, tied to his screen, the man keeps watching the television set, not noticing that the violence  occurs just around him.

In this film Švankmajer blends live action, stop motion, rather Terry Gilliam-like cut-out animation and pixilation with the stunning  self-assurance of a mature film maker. Especially the clay-animation is top-notch. Like Georges Schwizgebel’s ‘Hors-jeu‘ (1977) the film directly couples soccer to violence, a clear indication of the author’s worries about growing football hooliganism. Apart from that, the film shows the maker’s trademark ingredients, like his obsession with food.

Watch ‘Virile Games’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Virile Games’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: August 3, 1988
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Alice © Jan SvankmajerOf all classic literature, Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is certainly the most dreamlike, and it’s no wonder that it came to the attention of Czech master surrealist Jan Švankmajer.

Already in 1971 he had made a film on Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky, but arguably, this film has little to do with the poem. ‘Alice’ continues the surreal atmosphere of his earlier film and remains faithful to the book.

‘Alice’ was Jan Švankmajer’s first feature length film, and it really shows his craft and strikingly original vision. It is one of the best, probably the most original, and certainly the most disturbing film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s world famous book. In any case, it’s among the best animated features of all time.

Where the Walt Disney version focused on the loony, fantastic parts of the story, Švankmajer emphasizes its irrational, surreal character. Švankmajer puts the story in a setting completely his own. Although the film opens with the classic opening near the brook, after the titles, the action takes place mostly indoors, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere typical for this film, only matched by Švankmajer’s second feature film, ‘Faust’ (1994). In Švankmajer’s film ‘wonderland’ consists of an endless string of dirty old rooms, connected by many doors and desks with drawers, all of which the knob comes off. Even the lovely garden is no more than a stage with props.

The drawer knobs form the running gag in a movie which is low on humor, but high on unsettling and impressive images, starting with the stuffed rabbit suddenly coming to life and smashing the glass of its glass display with its scissors. Other highly memorable scenes are the stuffed rabbit eating sawdust, which falls out again its open belly; the mouse cooking on Alice’s head, the room of hole-digging socks; and the mindless and mechanical repetition of the mad tea-party scene, timed to perfection.

Švankmajer’s wonderland is a morbid world. Its inhabitants are stuffed animals, dolls, playing cards, and even a bunch of macabre fantasy creatures, oddly joined together from body parts from different animals and lifeless objects, and which form a real threat to the little girl. In this world, anything can become alive, as demonstrated by e.g. Alice’s own socks. At the same time, Alice remains the only really living thing, and even she turns into a doll three times. Death, too, is near: at one point in the film we see the mouse, still in his clothes, caught by a mousetrap, dead. And in Švankmajer’s wonderland, the queen of heart’s orders are executed, and several characters are decapitated, including the mad hatter and the march hare…

‘Alice’ uses a perfect blend of stop motion and live action, and has an excellent protagonist in young actor Kristýna Kohoutová. If the film has one flaw, it must be the girl’s voice, which provides all the dialogue and narration. It’s often unwelcome and out of place, and it doesn’t really work well in dialogue-rich scenes, like the mad tea scene or the trial scene.

Švankmajer is at his best when the action is silent and the images speak for themselves. These scenes are greatly added by superb sound design, provided by Ivo Špalj and Robert Jansa, which add to the creepy, wretched atmosphere of the film. ‘Alice’ is certainly not your average family film, but the viewer who dares to enter this film’s unique world, will not be disappointed.

Watch the trailer for ‘Alice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1983
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope © Krátky FilmAfter his not all too successful adaptation of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher‘ (1980), Czech film maker Jan Švankmajer returns to Edgar Allen Poe with ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’, with much better results.

In ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ Švankmajer tries to visualize Edgar Allen Poe’s most sensory and scariest story, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. He succeeds masterfully, merging the viewer with the protagonist, and retaining the horror of the discoveries of the torture chamber.

The story is told very straightforward, in black and white, without dialogue, voice over or music, giving it a raw and uncanny sense of realism. Švankmajer rejects Poe’s deus ex machina, however, but takes the story to a better, if more depressing conclusion.

‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ is essentially a live action movie, and contains little animation. However, in its disturbing take on Poe it is one of Švankmajer’s masterpieces, and definitely deserves to be better known.

Watch ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://vk.com/video101655_142703210?list=141142ca159bb76093

‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Down to the Cellar © Slovenská filmová tvorbaIn ‘Down to the Cellar’ Jan Švankmajer explores the fears of a child.

The film’s story is pretty straightforward: we watch a little girl (engagingly played by young Monika Belo-Cabanová) descending the stairs. She has to fetch some potatoes in a deep, dark cellar. However, her task will not be an easy one. Already her way down the stairs to the cellar is frightening, when she’s hindered by two adults who regard her all too knowlingly.

In the cellar, the girl sees strange things happening, like old shoes fighting over her croissant, and a cat growing to gigantic proportions. Even the potatoes won’t cooperate, rolling back into the case she picked them from. Worse, the cellar appears to be inhabited by the same two adults, who perform strange rites for her very eyes. Their invitations to the girl are dubious, and luckily the girl declines. Unfortunately, at the end of the short, she has to face her fears, once again.

‘Down to the Cellar’ contains a hard to define, but strong and disturbing threat of child abuse. The short is mostly shot in live action, and contains only a little stop motion animation. However, it’s arguably Švankmajer’s most moving film. Švankmajer keeps the child’s perspective throughout the movie, and we immediately sympathize with the little girl and her plight, sharing her state of wonder, fear and despair.

Švankmajer would explore the film’s theme again in his fourth feature film, ‘Otesánek’ (2000).

Watch ‘Down the Cellar’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://vk.com/video5061134_164400011

‘Down the Cellar’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1982
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Dimensions of Dialogue © Krátky filmTogether with ‘Jabberwocky‘ (1971), ‘Dimensions of a Dialogue’ can be considered Švankmajer’s masterpiece. It mixes excellent design with virtuoso animation and astonishingly original story material.

With ‘Dimensions of a Dialogue’ Švankmajer defined a style he would maintain into the early 1990s, resulting in most of his best films, including the feature lengths ‘Alice‘ (1987) and ‘Faust’ (1994). ‘Dimensions of a Dialogue’ contains three different ‘dialogues’, without using any real dialogue in the soundtrack. These three dialogues are pure visual encounters, making this film very universal.

Like in all his films, Švankmajer’s visual language is highly surreal. Yet, the three dialogues follow their own inescapable inner logic, with disturbing results. The film does not as much feature dialogue as well as rather violent clashes. It seems to show the inability of humans to communicate.

The first, ‘Factual dialogue’, is the most violent of the three episodes. It shows three heads moving in a 2-dimensional space. The three heads are clearly inspired by renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo and consist of food, household tools and office equipment, respectively. The heads devour eachother, destroying their parts more and more before spitting them out. Like ‘Et Cetera‘ (1966) there is a sense of pointlessness in this endless string of violence, which tells something about humanity.

The second part, ‘A passionate dialogue’, is the most virtuoso episode of the three. ‘In this part Švankmajer and his animating collaborator Vlasta Pospíšilová introduce a new level in claymation. The film features a stunningly realistic human couple made out of clay. The man and woman are animated beautifully when they embrace passionately, until they become one moving lump of clay of pure desire. When they part again, however, there’s some leftover: a little lump of formless clay yearning for affection. Unfortunately, neither of the two lovers accepts this petty piece of clay, and the innocent leftover brings the couple to rage. In their conflict they once again become a clay lump, but now one of utter destruction…

The third part, ‘An exhausting dialogue’, is the most comical one, and seems to portray a discussion going haywire. It features two realistic heads on a table, producing a toothbrush and toothpaste, bread and butter, a shoe and a shoelace and a pencil and a sharper in more and more absurd combinations to the exhaustion of both. The soundtrack is perfect throughout the picture, but exceptionally so in this third part in its combination of Jan Klusák’s music and train sounds.

‘Dimensions of a Dialogue’ is inexplicable, but communicates on a subconscious level, like all great surreal art. It perfectly shows the power of animation in showing the human condition using the very outskirts of imagination. The result is no less than one of best animation films ever.

Watch ‘Dimensions of Dialogue’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dimensions of Dialogue’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’ and on the DVD ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1980
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Fall of the House of Usher © Krátky FilmJan Švankmajer retells this famous story by Edgar Allen Poe using a narrating voice over and black and white images of several different objects.

The images, some of which are animated, are sometimes quite disturbing, and are at points even able to evoke the horror of the story. However, most of the time they seem totally unrelated to the narration, and their visual power in fact often distracts from the voice over, making the story very hard to follow, indeed.

‘The House of Usher’ is a daring experiment in cinematographic storytelling, but not really a successful one, and Švankmajer would not repeat it. Nevertheless, three years later, the Czech film maker would return to Edgar Allen Poe, in ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope‘, with much better results.

Watch ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1971
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Leonardo's Diary © Jan SvankmajerAnimated sketches of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci are alternated with excerpts from stock live action films.

Atypically for Jan Švankmajer, this film uses pencil animation only (except for a short stop motion segment of a pencil drawing a hand). The animation of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings is both stunning and very convincing. Unfortunately, the nonsensical interruptions with stock film wear the film down, rendering a boring film with an unclear message.

Nevertheless, the Czech communist authorities responded negatively to Švankmajer’s unauthorized post-production of this film, with the incorporation of images related to daily life – presuming a hidden political message. So after ‘Leonardo’s Diary’ Švankmajer was forced to lay down his work for seven years. Only in 1979 he would make the start of a second career, in which he would produce his best films. However, Švankmajer would never return to drawn animation, and ‘Leonardo’s Diary’ remains the only testimony of his skills in this form of art.

Watch ‘Leonardo’s Diary’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Leonardo’s Diary’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1971
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Jabberwocky © Jan Svankmajer‘Jabberwocky’ has little to do with the poem from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through The Looking Glass’, although we hear it being recited by a little girl during the opening sequence.

The film it is Švankmajer’s surrealistic masterpiece on the loss of childhood, depicted by several episodes, which are separated by a box of bricks, a labyrinth and a black cat crushing the box of bricks.

During the episodes we are treated on extremely surrealistic images of very active inanimate objects in a child’s room. First we watch a boy’s suit growing a forest in his room, defying both time and authority (symbolized by the portrait in the room). Then we watch large cannibalistic dolls grinding, ironing and eating little dolls, a china baby in a cradle destroying two tin armies, a pocket knife performing acrobatic tricks until it makes an ill-fated fall and stabs itself, and finally, schoolbooks producing paper boats and planes, which fly out of the window, while the father’s portrait produces pictures of beautiful women.

This last episode shows the child’s changing interests. In the end the labyrinth is solved, the cat – the only living thing in the entire film – is caged, and the boy’s suit is replaced by an adult one. The boy is free from his parent, but the days of imagination are over, the fantasy is gone.

For this film Švankmajer makes excellent use of 19th century imagery (sailor suit, vintage dolls and toys) to create a completely unique world. It’s the film maker’s most typical film, partly expanding on ideas explored in ‘Historia Naturae, Suita‘ (1967), and showing his fascination with fantasy, cruelty and decay, which roam freely in the child’s self-contained room. The rather morbid behavior of the everyday objects is quite unsettling and it shows how a child’s fantasy can be both imaginative and cruel.

‘Jabberwocky’ is without doubt one of Švankmajer’s most powerful films. He would only top it eleven years later, with ‘Dimensions of a Dialogue‘ (1982). Švankmajer would explore the imagination of children further in the moving ‘Down to the Cellar‘ (1983), and in his unique adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s most famous work ‘Alice‘ (1987).

Watch ‘Jabberwocky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jabberwocky’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1970
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Ossuary © Jan Svankmajer‘The Ossuary’ is a commissioned documentary film about a Czech chapel in Sedlec, which is decorated with thousands of bones and skulls of victims of the 1318 plague and of the Hussite wars of 1421.

Two versions of this film exists: one with a soundtrack of a rather mundane guide guiding a group of children, in which she repeatedly warns not to touch the bones on a penalty of fifty crowns. Her tour is mixed with the uncanny sound of a rattling bicycle. For unclear reasons this soundtrack was considered subversive and forbidden by the Czechoslowakian regime. Therefore a second version was made using a jazz soundtrack.

In both versions the soundtrack conflicts with the morbid images, which are composed in a rhythmical way that even appeals when watched silently. The film contains no animation, but is full of Švankmajer’s idiosyncratic cinematography.

Watch ‘The Ossuary’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Ossuary’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1969
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Don Juan © Jan SvankmajerIn ‘Don Juan’ Švankmajer’s retells a classic tale from the marionette theater.

The story unfolds in half an hour: Don Juan is a rogue who kills his father, the father of his beloved and his own brother, only to be taken into the depths off hell.

Oddly enough the film is enacted by people dressed as marionettes and behaving accordingly. This allows the marionettes to leave the theater and to perform in the real world, which is strangely intermingled with the marionette theater. This blend of the real and the artificial gives the film a weird and disturbing atmosphere. Švankmajer would reuse and improve upon this mix in his masterpiece, the feature film ‘Faust’ (1994).

This film contains hardly any animation, and may therefore not be included in this blog. However, it takes a central part in Švankmajer’s oeuvre, who has always blended several different techniques into his works. It’s best to review his oeuvre as a whole, being animated or not.

Watch ‘Don Šajn’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://vdownload.eu/watch/12204836-jan-svankmajer-%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%BD-%D0%B6%D1%83%D0%B0%D0%BD-don-352-ajn-don-juan-1969.html

 

‘Don Šajn’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1969
Rating: ★★
Review:

A Quiet Week in the House © Jan Svankmajer‘A Quiet Week in the House’ is the last film in a series of four involving people facing surreal settings, which Švankmajer made in 1968-1969.

in this film a fugitive seeks shelter in an abandoned house. Every day he digs a hole in one of the doors of the corridor in which he sleeps. Every day he looks through the hole to watch weird surrealistic images of inanimate things behaving strangely. After a week he sets up a device to blow up all doors.

The live action footage is shot in black-and-white, and is accompanied by the sound of a camera. The surrealistic images, on the other hand, are shot in color and completely silent. Unfortunately, the film is too long, and it fails to be as impressive as related films like ‘The flat’ (1968) or ‘Jabberwocky‘ (1971), being neither completely disturbing nor very entertaining. ‘A Quiet Week in the House’ remains one of Švankmajer’s rare weak films.

Watch ‘A Quiet Week in the House’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Quiet Week in the House’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: 1954
Rating: ★★★
Review:

A Drop Too Much © Jiri TrnkaA young man on a motorcycle is on his way to his girl.

Along the way he stops at a bar, where a wedding is taking place. There he’s offered a drink, which he reluctantly accepts. However, one leads to another and he is quite intoxicated when leaving the bar. Driving at night he tries to speed against a car, a train and even a plane, but he finally crashes, never to see his girl.

This educational film warns us not to combine drinking with driving. In this respect the film is very dull and predictable, but Trnka’s illusion of speed and drunkenness is astonishing.

Watch ‘A Drop Too Much’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://en.channel.pandora.tv/channel/video.ptv?ch_userid=noisypig&prgid=46485008&ref=rss

Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: 1951
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Merry Circus © Jiri Trnka‘The Merry Circus’, is puppet-animator Trnka’s try at cut-out animation.

The film shows that Trnka was a master in this technique as well: the animation is superb: the sense of weight, muscular tensions and balance is nothing less than stunning. Moreover, the cut-outs seem to float in mid-air, casting wonderful shadows on the background.

Unfortunately, the film’s subject is not that interesting. We watch circus artists perform, among them two sea lions juggling, a girl on a horse, three trapeze acrobats and an acrobat bear balancing on a chair on a bottle on a glass. Even though some of the shown tricks are quite improbable, the only truly surrealistic act is the fish on the slack-rope.

Despite the lack of story, the film is an enjoyable watch: its visual design is beautiful and poetic, its animation fluent and convincing, and its circus atmosphere well-captured. ‘The Merry Circus’ may not be Trnka’s best film, but it’s only the high quality of some of his other films that makes this one second-rate.

Watch ‘The Merry Circus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://veehd.com/video/4587370_Jiri-Trnka-The-Merry-Circus-Vesely-Cirkus-1951

Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: 1949
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Román s basou (Story of the Bass Cello) © Jiri Trnka‘Story of the Bass Cello’ is a re-telling of a classic story by Anton Chekhov.

The film tells about a bass player and a girl who both take a swim, but whose clothes are stolen. The bass player invites the lady to take place in his bass case, but when he’s after the possible thief, the case is picked up by his fellow instrumentalists and brought to the palace, where an astonished crowd discovers the naked lady inside.

‘Story of the Bass Cello’ is a mildly amusing and sweet film. It contains nice silent comedy. The short is a little bit slow, however, and not as good as Trnka’s more outrageous ‘The Song of the Prairie‘ from the same year.

Watch ‘Story of the Bass Cello’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://veehd.com/video/4587175_Jiri-Trnka-Roman-s-Basou-Story-Of-The-Bass-Cello-1949

Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: 1949
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Song of the Prairie © Jiri TrnkaWith ‘The Song of the prairie’ Trnka’s both made a parody of and a homage to the classic Western.

The film uses all the cliches of the genre: a stagecoach, masked bandits, a damsel in distress, a hero with a white hat, a villain fancying the girl, and a climax on a cliff.

Trnka’s animation has much improved since ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale‘: the cinematography is excellent, and particularly the illusion of speed is astonishing. The film is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and full of brilliant silent comedy, showing Trnka’s then unsurpassed mastery in stop-motion. ‘The Song of the Prairie’ is one of Trnka’s most enjoyable films, and deserves a more classic status.

Watch ‘The Song of the Prairie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.totalshortfilms.com/ver/pelicula/122

Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: April 15, 1949
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Emperor's Nightingale © Jiri Trnka‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ is Jiří Trnka’s second feature film (he made no less than six in total).

It tells the familiar story by Hans Christian Andersen from an original perspective: he frames the fairy tale by a live-action story about a lonely rich boy, who lives in a restricted environment. When the boy goes to bed, he dreams the fairy-tale, which stars some of his toys. Thus, after more than seven minutes, the animation kicks in.

In the boy’s dream, the Chinese emperor is a lonely little rich boy, restricted by rules, too, and the whole film seems a plea for freedom and against rules and restrictions, quite some message in communist Czechoslovakia. This theme is enhanced by the English narration, wonderfully voiced by Boris Karloff, which is a welcome addition to Trnka’s silent comedy. The whole film breathes a kind of surrealistic atmosphere and Trnka’s use of camera angles is astonishing, as is his sometimes very avant-garde montage.

Nevertheless, the pacing of the film is slow, its humor sparse and only mildly amusing, and the puppet animation still too stiff to allow elaborate character animation. Therefore, the film hasn’t aged very well, and although a tour-de- force, ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ falls short as a timeless masterpiece.

Watch ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1967
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Historia Naturae, Suita © Jan Svankmajer‘Historia Naturae, Suita’ is an abstract, yet morbid and disturbing film.

It uses drawings, models, skeletons, stuffed and live animals, which change into each other and which perform morbid dances. Their antics are interspersed with a close up of a man eating meat.

We see molluscs (Aquatilia, foxtrot), insects (Hexapoda, bolero), fish (Pisces, blues), reptiles (Reptilia, tarantella), birds (Aves, tango), mammals (Mammalia, menuet), monkeys (Simiae, polka) and man (Homo, waltz), successively.

It shows us that we, men, are made from the same mortal matter as the rest of the animal kingdom, which in this film appear to us only as collectibles or food. This unsettling reminder is emphasized by the last shot, in which the human is replaced by a skull, eating…

The music is a perfect match to the surrealistic imagery, with its rather abstract, uncanny and atonal renderings of the dance forms mentioned.

Watch ‘Historia Naturae, Suita’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.totalshortfilms.com/ver/pelicula/379

‘Historia Naturae, Suita’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1966
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Et Cetera © Jan SvankmajerIn ‘Et Cetera’ three faceless human figures demonstrate repetitive and aimless actions.

The first shows how to fly with wings, only to reach his own starting point. The second transforms himself into the animal he’s training using a whip, and the third keeps on drawing houses he cannot enter or leave.

Unlike most of Jan Švankmajer’s films, ‘Et Cetera’ uses 2d animation. It’s a clever and somehow saddening film: although the three little stories are extremely simple, they seem to tell something about the condition humaine. ‘Et Cetera’ uses great electronic music, which adds to the surrealistic atmosphere.

Watch ‘Et Cetera’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Et Cetera’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

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