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Director: Priit Pärn
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Hotel E © Priit PärnIf ‘Breakfast on the Grass‘ was a dark and disturbing portrait of life in the Soviet Union, Priit Pärn’s next film, ‘Hotel E’, took off the mask from the former Soviet state like no other film.

Released shortly after Estonia’s declaration of independence on 20 August 1991, it’s the film on the fall of the iron curtain, seen from an Eastern European perspective. Pärn paints Eastern and Western Europe in the most extreme contrasts, and with different animation styles.

Western Europe (named ‘The American Dream’) is a lethargic dream room, filled with rich, lazy, and spoiled people, filling their empty lives with petty problems, and hardly capable of communicating with each other. This world is filmed in slow, rotoscoped movements in the most colorful pop-art style.

Meanwhile, next door, in the Eastern European room, things are very different indeed. This world is depicted in Pärn’s crude scratchy animation style, it’s dark, it’s filthy, and life there is extremely stressful. The inhabitants all sit around a round table, and their presence is constantly checked by a moving clock hand. The room is frequently illuminated by search lights, and if one fails to stay in place for whatever reason, he’s executed immediately. Paranoia and secrecy reign. Moreover, chances can change randomly, and someone who was in favor first, can be out of luck next time.

One of the inhabitants of this cruel world manages to break free and he’s capable to visit the other world next door. He repeats his visits, despite the fact that he has to leave his concerned wife behind, and despite the fact he’s increasingly seen as a traitor by his fellow citizens. Even worse, he seemingly has little to add to the luxurious world of the West, and his longings there are hardly answered, let alone his problems understood. Only in the end he manages to find his place in this society, when only he turns out to be able to restore the inhabitants’ happiness. At that point we watch the wall between the two rooms collapsing, exposing the rotten world of the East and its eager inhabitants, and we hear one Western woman exclaim ‘o, shit…’.

‘Hotel E’ is Pärn’s most openly political film. It must be regarded as one of his masterpieces, and because of its historical significance, the most important film by the Estonian master. Pärn’s visual language is at its most extreme here, and the film is very difficult to decipher. In fact, much of what is happening is hard to comprehend. But anyone who takes the plunge, is rewarded by a most moving, and impressive film, indeed, the message of which still rings today.

Watch ‘Hotel E’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.totalshortfilms.com/ver/pelicula/138

Director: Priit Pärn
Release Date: 1987
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Breakfast on the Grass © Priit PärnMade directly after ‘Time Out’, ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ is one of Priit Pärn’s most powerful films.

It’s also one of his most difficult, and its message is at times hard to decipher. Pärn doesn’t tell straightforward stories, and much remains unexplained. Most importantly, it’s one of the few films showing insight in Eastern European life under the communist oppression. Its atmosphere is gloomy, its graphic style crude and scratchy, its humor dark, and its surrealism disturbing.

In ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ we follow four people, two men and two women, who struggle in their daily life. The first, Anna, strongly feels she’s an outcast in the society. She’s not really part of the system, and misses out on its benefits, as exemplified by her search for rare apples. The second, Georg, imagines himself a playboy, but reality is harder. In pursuit of a suit, with which he can fulfill his playboy dreams he has to go through a grind of corruption. Everyone wants something rare in exchange for offered service. Berta has lost her face as soon she became a mother. She only regains it when she finds the attention of a man. And finally, Eduard shrinks when he needs a paper signed from a very high official. Luckily he gets help from a female friend…

Also starring in these stories is an anonymous artist, who is constantly followed by a flock of crows or dragged around by two state officials. A clearer statement of oppression is hard to find in any Soviet film.

In the end, the four people succeed in their aim, and together they go to a park, where they form a life tableau of Edouard’s Manet’s painting ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe‘ (1863) which lends its name to the film’s title. This hopeful statement of beauty, freedom and art is as quickly dismantled, however, and the final shot is for the artist, whose arm is smacked by a steam roller…

Like few other films ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ shows what life is like in an oppressed state, where food is scarce, where bureaucracy and corruption run freely, and where the role you play is more important than your personal preferences. Even though the Glasnost was in full flight in 1987, it’s a wonder such a dark accusation was possible in the Soviet Union, of which Estonia was then still part.

Watch ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Priit Pärn
Release Date: 1984
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Time Out © Priit Pärn‘Time Out’ is Priit Pärn’s fifth film, but the first to gain a widespread attention, and to win a number of international prizes.

It shows the filmmaker’s idiosyncratic style and unique surrealism, without the dark side, often present in his other films. The film is filled with child-like wonder, and a happy atmosphere, enhanced by the joyful reggae music by composer Olav Ehala.

The film opens with a room in which a very stressed out cat lives. The cat is in a constant need to check his alarm clock, which is on a shelf too high for him. When he finally reaches the clock, he discovers he can’t read it without his glasses, so he has to find them first, etc. Pärn shows this pointless ritual in several variations over and over again, following the cat running around in his room.

At one point, however, the alarm clock breaks, and time stands still. At this point of the film the cat finds himself in a fantastic world where everything can happen. This part is extremely rich in visual tricks, which go all the way back to Émile Cohl’s ‘Fantasmagorie’ (1908). Nothing is what it seems, and metamorphosis runs freely. Unfortunately, in the end, time is restored, and the cat has to face his former stressful life once again.

‘Time Out’ certainly shows Priit Pärn’s mastery, and excellent timing. His fantasy is extraordinary, and the film shows the power of animation like few other films do. It’s also a reminder that we should snap out of the daily routine, and let our mind wander, and be really creative. When one takes time, everything may be possible!

Watch ‘Time Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Flora © Jan Svankmajer‘Flora’ is an ultra-short film made for MTV. It only lasts 30 seconds.

In it we watch a woman who’s tied down to a hospital bed. She apparently consists partly of vegetables, which are quickly rotting away, as if life is leaving her by the seconds. There’s a relieving glass of water nearby, but out of her reach. This is a puzzling and rather unsettling image, which knows no release.

Flora was the Roman goddess of flowers, and her features resemble that of a Giuseppe Arcimboldo-character, another homage by Švankmajer to the Renaissance-master, after ‘Dimensions of Dialogue‘ (1982). But how did the goddess come into this setting of utter distress? Watching her decaying alive is painful, even within this short time-frame.

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

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

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’

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 bizar 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 pixillation 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: Mark Baker
Release Date: 1988
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Hill Farm © Mark Baker‘The Hill Farm’ is a long animation film exploring man’s relation to nature.

First we watch the inhabitants of the hill farm themselves: simple farmers, who know the dangers and hardships of nature, and who treat their livestock without romanticism (as exemplified by the farmer’s wife killing chicken without ado).

At one point the hill farm is visited by tourists, who are completely alienated from nature. One of them faints at the sight of the farmer’s wife killing a chicken. When confronted by nature’s dangers (as embodied by a gigantic bear-like beast) they don’t recognize the danger at all. To them nature is something to visit, something to make snapshots from. The third party is a group of huntsmen, who (try to) kill everything in sight, including even the farmer’s bees.

The whole film takes place at a leisurely speed, without dialogue. Mark Baker’s visual style is simple, but very effective. His angular designs and graphic backgrounds are beautiful, and his animation has a unique timing, which is as comical as it is to the point. The narration is very open, leaving the interpretation to the viewer. The end result is one of the most beautiful animation films of the 1980’s.

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

‘The Hill Farm’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: René Laloux
Release Date: January 28, 1988
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Gandahar © René Laloux‘Gandahar’ was to be René Laloux’s last feature, and like his former two feature films, ‘La planète sauvage‘ (1973) and ‘Les maîtres du temps‘ (1982), it’s a science fiction film set on a strange planet.

The film is especially related to ‘Les maîtres du temps’. Not only in visual style, but also with its story line involving mindless oppressors and time travelling. This time we’re on the paradise-like planet Gandahar, which is suddenly attacked by a powerful, yet unknown force. Soldier Sylvain is send away to find out who these enemies are…

‘Gandahar’ is the least successful of Laloux’s features. Its story, based on a 1969 novel by Jean-Pierre Andrevon, is entertaining enough, but the film’s narrative style is terrible. Practically everything that’s happening is explained by the main characters to us, even when we as viewers had come to our own conclusions. This is most preposterous in an early scene in which Sylvain finds his love interest Airelle, who immediately exclaims she’s falling in love with our hero. This must be one of the worst love scenes ever put to the animated screen.

The film’s ultimate villain is rather surprising, as is his downfall, even though he’s killed off ridiculously easily. Strangely enough the creature is given a long death scene, before the film abruptly ends. We don’t even watch Sylvain reunite with his love interest! Not that we did care, anyway, for the film’s main protagonists are as characterless as possible.

It’s a pity, for the film’s aesthetics are quite okay for a 1980s film. The animation, by a North-Korean studio, is fair, if not remarkable, and the designs by French comic book artist Philippe Caza are adequately otherwordly. Sure, he’s no Moebius, let alone a Roland Topor, and he never reaches the strangeness of the latter’s fantastic planet from 1973. In fact the film rarely succeeds in escaping the particularly profane visual style of the 1980s (e.g. ‘Heavy Metal’). Most interesting are the backgrounds, and Gabriel Yared’s musical score, which is inspired and which elevates the film to a higher level.

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

Director: Osamu Tezuka
Release Date: 1987
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Legend of the Forest © Osamu Tezuka‘Legend of the Forest’ is Tezuka’s longest and most ambitious short film.

Like many of his films it shows Tezuka’s concern with environmental issues. However, foremost, this film is Tezuka’s answer to Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1940). Based on the first and last movement of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony it portraits the fight of forest creatures against the demolition of their forest.

The first movement tells about the struggle of a lone flying squirrel against one lumberjack and against the jealous fellow-forest animals. This part is the most extraordinary for its diversity in styles. It is as if Tezuka wanted to show the evolution of animation itself within his emotional story. At first, the story is told in manga-images only. There’s no movement, even though the realistic images are very lively. The next episode is in Émile Cohl’s style, followed by a very convincing homage to Winsor McCay’s ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (1914). This is followed by a scene in which the little squirrel looks like Otto Messmer’s Felix the Cat or as an early Disney character. This episode is particularly beautifully animated. When a man comes into the forest with a chainsaw, Tezuka’s jumps to the style of Fleischer’s Popeye, including Fleischer’s tabletop-technique for 3d effects.

It’s followed by the first episode in color, in which the squirrel finds a female companion. This part starts as a clear tribute to the very first animation film in technicolor, Disney’s ‘Flowers and Trees‘ (1932), but is mostly drawn like a 1940s cartoon. The final episode of the first part, in which the man shoots his girl and the squirrel sacrifices himself, is quite Bambi-like. Interestingly, throughout the episode, the backgrounds and the staging retain a typical anime-like character.

The second part, using the symphony’s final movement, is less impressing than the first part. It starts with a very Fantasia-like fairy scene, but when we watch very anime-like breasted foxes, we know we’re in a different film. This part tells how magical forest characters (including a few dwarfs) win a war over a forest from a Hitler-like foreman. This part in particular resonates in several Ghibli-films with similar themes, like ‘Pom Poko’ (1994) or ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997).

The complete film is an original and unique statement, which deserves to be much more famous than it actually is. Tezuka’s animated output was of a high quality anyhow, but this film may stand as a particularly artistic highlight within his extraordinary career.

Watch ‘Legend of the Forest’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Nicole van Goethem
Release Date: 1985
Rating:
Review:

Een Griekse tragedie © Nicole van Goethem‘A Greek Tragedy’ won an Academy Award and the first prize at the Annecy Inernational Film Festival. I remain puzzled why.

‘A Greek Tragedy’ was Van Goethem’s first own film. It’s a classic gag cartoon featuring three living, scarcely clad female caryatids supporting an old ruin. When the ruin crumbles, and they’re finally free, we watch them dancing into the distance.

The designs are trite, the synthesizer music is ugly, the humor is poor, and the story forgettable. If this short has a hidden, perhaps feminist message, it’s lost on me. And then to imagine, that one of the short’s competitors for the Oscars was ‘Luxo jr.’, a far more convincing and rewarding film in every respect!

Watch ‘Een Griekse tragedie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Een Griekse tragedie’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

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 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: Osamu Tezuka
Release Date: 1987
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Muramasa © Osamu TezukaThis film is named after a medieval sword smith who made swords that were supposedly cursed, creating blood lust in its wielder and finally making him commit suicide.

The film is an illustration of this curse and of its own motto: “A man with arms which can kill people like puppets is not aware that he himself has already become a puppet”. For this dark anti-violence film Tezuka uses realistic imagery and limited animation, which make the film look a little like an animated comic.

The film’s visual language is utterly Japanese, accompanied by equally Japanese music. But its message is universal, and another example of Tezuka’s strong dislike of war and violence. Even if it is not amongst his most impressive works, the film still manages to deliver its dark message.

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

Director: Osamu Tezuka
Release Date: 1984
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Jumping © Osamu TezukaOsamu Tezuka is known as the founder of commercial animation in Japan, but he never lost sight of the artistic possibilities of animation.

No film of his shows this more clearly than ‘Jumping’, arguably the best film he ever made. In ‘Jumping’ we watch the world from the eyes of rope jumping girl. As the short progresses she jumps higher and higher, and further and further, even jumping to Africa, to a war-ridden country and into a mushroom cloud, straight into hell.

‘Jumping’ is not only strikingly original, it is very well-made with its constantly moving backgrounds, and as funny as it is disturbing in its finale. The mushroom cloud, the nightmare of man, but especially of the Japanese, the only nation to have experienced it, is a frightful sight, even in this animated short. Together with the girl, we sigh with relief when in the end of the film we return to the familiar and peaceful territory of our home street.

‘Jumping’ maybe a clear product of the cold war era, its impact is still at work today, and its message still as significant.

Watch ‘Jumping’ 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:

‘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: Michel Ocelot
Airing Date: December 21, 1983 – ?
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

La Princesse Insensible © Michel OcelotAfter the artistic successes of ‘Les trois inventeurs‘ (1979) and ‘La légende du pauvre bossu‘ (1982) Ocelot turned his skills to a gentle and entertaining television series for children.

The series, called ‘La princesse insensible’ (the insensitive princess), consists of thirteen episodes and has a very simple story line: a princess is so bored that nothing can amuse her. The king declares that when a prince manages to amuse the princess nonetheless, he will win her. In the 4 minute long episodes we watch several young princes, sorcerers in fact, trying to amuse her in her own theater, all in vain.

‘La princesse insensible’ uses a mixture of traditional and cut-out animation. Ocelot’s animation may be simple, no doubt due to a limited budget, but it’s very effective in its pantomimed action. The series’ design is elegant in its recreation of an 18th century atmosphere. The framing story is told in silhouettes, reminiscent of the work by Lotte Reiniger, but the theater scenes are in bright colors. The atmosphere is fairy-like and surreal throughout, helped by Christian Maire’s otherworldly music. In all, ‘La princesse insensible’ is a little charming series, which shows Ocelot’s delicate and unique voice in the animation world.

The separate episodes of ‘La princesse insensible’ are listed below:

1. Le Prince dompteur (The Tamer Prince)
This episode tells the framing story and shows us the first prince. He has a menagerie of trained fairy tale animals: a unicorn, a three-headed dog, a Chinese dragon and a phoenix.

2. Le Prince jardinier (The Gardener Prince)
The second episode, like all following episodes of ‘La princesse insensible’, starts without the framing story. Instead the story is told in the title song. After the intro, we watch the second prince performing right away. He’s a garden prince, able to make plants and flowers grow on the bare floors and pillars of the princess’s theater. When he fails to impress the princess, he disappears on an ever-growing tree.

3. Le Prince à transformations (The Transforming Prince)
The third prince trying to impress the insensible princess is the most interesting to animation fans. Being called the metamorphosis prince, he’s able to transform himself into all kinds of people and things. Ocelot uses some beautiful metamorphosis animation in doing so. The prince’s performance builds up to a great finale, in which the prince transforms himself into seemingly hundreds of things, which is depicted by the rapid showing of random pictures. This simple device works because we’ve seen the process of transformation just before that. It also adds a humorous touch to the fairy-like atmosphere, because many of the objects are anachronisms in the 18th century setting.

4. Le Prince sourcier (The Dowser Prince)
The fourth prince, the ‘diviner prince’, is able to sprout water everywhere, using a divining-rod, turning the princess’s theater into a fountain. One of the more fairy-like episodes of ‘la princesse insensible’, ‘Le prince sourcier’ is less impressive than the first three episodes. After these three, the diviner prince even fails to impress we viewers.

5. Le Prince qui fait semblant (The Pretender Prince)
The fifth prince trying to impress the princess is almost typically french: he’s a mime artist, miming (among others) that he plays the piano, rides a bicycle and even a motorcycle inside the princess’s theater. When he fails to impress the princess he even mimes that he commits suicide. Like ‘le prince à transformation’ this episode has an extra touch because of the anachronisms.

6. Le Prince météorologue (The Meteorologist Prince)
The sixth prince is called the weather prince, and he’s able to make clouds dancing within the princess’s theater. He also makes rain, lightning and a rainbow. When he leaves the princess unimpressed, he covers himself in snow. One of the lesser episodes of ‘la princesse insensible’, ‘le prince météorologue’ nevertheless shows Ocelot’s fantasy. When one doesn’t expect any more meteorological wonders, the prince transforms the rainbow into numbers and patterns.

7. Le Prince sous-marin (The Underwater Prince)
The seventh prince arrives in a fish-like submarine inside an enormous fish-tank. Compared to the other princes, his antics are relatively believable, although he seems to have the ability to make fish forming patterns. This episode is one of the lesser entries in the series, despite the beautiful old-fashioned design of the princes’ submarine.

8. Le Prince volant (The Flying Prince)
The eight prince, the flying prince, looks like a Japanese superhero with wings. During his flight, we see more of the theater than in any other episode. Apparently there’s more public than the princess alone.

9. Le Prince décorateur (The Decorator Prince)
The decorator prince is able to turn the complete theater upside-down, to change its colors by clever lighting. When the princess is unimpressed as ever, he descends into the basements.

10. Le Prince magicien (The Magician Prince)
This prince is called the ‘magician prince’, even though many of the other princess were skilled magicians as well. The prince enters on a flying carpet and turns the pillars of the theater into palm trees, the chandelier into a beach ball and the stone ornaments into butterflies. Then he turns his own hat into a zeppelin and the furniture into a train. Enraged by the princess’s non-reaction, the prince makes everything disappear again, including the theater and himself.

11. Le Prince peintre (The Painter Prince)
The Painter prince episode, unlike the other episodes, has some false starts, as the prince repeatedly forgets something he needs to paint his enormous canvas. The painter exactly copies the theater on his canvas, then paints a happy portrait of the princess. But when she remains unimpressed, he violates his own drawings. It’s charming to see the shadows of Ocelot’s paper figure of the painter, while he’s painting the enormous canvas. It gives the series its handicraft appeal.

12. Le Prince artificier (The Artificer Prince)
The fireworks prince, like the painter prince, knows some false starts, when he has troubles preparing the fireworks in the dark. The fireworks effects are created nicely with kaleidoscope effects into beautiful abstract patterns. The prince also illuminates the theater with neon lights. In the end the prince disappears on a rocket, after which the complete theater explodes.

13. Le Prince écolier (The Schoolboy Prince)
The last prince, ‘the schoolboy prince’, is much less skilled than the other princes, but he immediately solves the princess’s problem: she appears to be terribly nearsighted, and he helps her with his glasses. They are married, and the other princes perform for the princess once again, which leads to a sequence with highlights from the previous episodes.

‘La princesse insensible’ is available on the DVD ‘Les trésors cachés de Michel Ocelot’

Director: Michel Ocelot
Release date: 1982
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

La Légende du pauvre bossu © Michel OcelotThree years after ‘Les trois inventeurs‘, Michel Ocelot returns with another disturbing film contemplating mankind’s narrow-mindedness and cruelty.

Using beautiful designs inspired by medieval woodcuts, little animation and no dialogue, Ocelot tells about a young hunchback who tries to win the heart of a beautiful princess, but who’s maltreated by the nobility and ridiculed by the crowds. When he’s stabbed in the back, he becomes an angel carrying the princess off into heaven.

Despite the paucity of animation, the film is beautiful and moving, if not as impressive as ‘Les trois inventeurs’.

Watch ‘La légende du pauvre Bossu’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘La légende du pauvre Bossu’ is available on the DVD ‘Les trésors cachés de Michel Ocelot’

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