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Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: 1965
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Hand © Jiri TrnkaIn a self-contained world, seemingly outside space and time, an harlequin lives happily in his home.

The harlequin is an artist, a ceramist and a sculptor, making pots for his beloved plant. Unfortunately, his domestic peace is disturbed by a giant gloved hand, which orders him to sculpt a statue of a hand. As the harlequin keeps refusing, the hand uses praise, money, indoctrination, brutal force and erotics to persuade the artist to do what he’s ordered.

In the end the harlequin is caught, his hands are attached to strings worked by the hand, and he has to sculpt a giant hand in a cage. But, after finishing his works, the artist escapes and returns to his beloved home. It sadly is his own beloved plant that kills him by falling on his head, while he’s barricading the entrances to his room. The hand gives the artist a state funeral, making him posthumously part of the system.

‘The Hand’ was Czech puppet animator Jiří Trnka’s last film, and it was to be his masterpiece. Instead of diving into classic tales, he made one of his own, resulting in a most personal film and one that stands as the classic animated tale on totalitarianism.

Trnka manages to tell his tale without any dialogue. Although the puppet of the harlequin knows only one expression, his emotions are well-felt through his animation. There’s no doubt he’s symbolic for artists working in totalitarian regimes in general. The glove is a masterstroke. In its facelessness it is as scary as it is symbolic for the invisible hand of totalitarian power. The result is an equally sad and disturbing film, which shows both Trnka’s genius and the power of animation in general.

It’s no small surprise that this highly symbolic film was forbidden in communist Czechoslovakia.

‘The Hand’s message is still topical, being symbolic for artists working in oppressive regimes all over the world.

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

 

‘The Hand’ is available on the DVD ‘The Puppet Films of Jiri Trnka’

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Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1965
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A Game With Stones © Jan SvankmajerIn ‘A Game with Stones’ (also known by its German title ‘Spiel mit Steinen’) an odd construction, consisting of a clock, a tap and a bucket, produces stones by the hour. These stones form patterns to the music of a music box until the bucket is emptied, dropping the stones on the floor.

The stones’ abstract patterns are indeed game-like, but they become more and more grim, ending in a destructive game, destroying the stones, and eventually, the bucket, leaving the machine useless. The game is over. It is Švankmajer’s genius that he’s able to give this fairly abstract film a heart and an unsettling, sad ending.

‘A Game with Stones’ is Švankmajer’s first film to use stop motion animation extensively. The fourth game contains faces made of numerous small pebbles, which anticipates similar heads in ‘Dimensions of Dialogue’ (1982), a film in which Švankmajer’s stop motion techniques reach a stunning apex.

Watch ‘A Game with Stones’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Game with Stones’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1964
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Last Trick © Jan SvankmajerIn ‘The Last Trick’ two magicians in large masks perform their impossible tricks one after another against a black, empty background.

Although they stay polite, their congratulationary handshakes between the tricks gradually become more and more violent, ending in a disastrous mutual disembodiment. The last shot is of the only really living organism inhabiting this surrealist world, a beetle, dead.

‘The Last Trick’ is Czech film maker Jan Švankmajer’s first film, and already his obsessions with puppets, body parts and death are full blown. Its humor is dark, its images are grim and its story is very unsettling. Švankmajer’s first film (which contains a little stop motion animation) is also his first masterpiece.

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

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

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