Jan Svankmajer (Czech, 1934), who graduated from DAMU (the Theater faculty of
the Prague Academy of Performing Arts) and worked initially
in avantgarde theaters (the Semafor Theatre and the Laterna Magika multimedia theater), 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), which marked his transition to surrealism,
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).
After a hiatus during the "normalization" period following the Soviet invasion
of Czechoslovakia, he resumed his work with
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),
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
(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
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 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
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.
There is no dialogue or monologues.
The fact that they exchange rituals and the way they wink at each other make it clear that they are all in on it, they all know about each other.
It's a colossal conspiracy of pleasure.
The rituals of the two neighbors are symmetrical, and it's obvious that she feels contempt for him and can't wait to humiliate him and he is afraid of her and can't wait to get revenge. In their rituals they vent these desires.
The dominant theme of the film is not sex but its absence, perhaps even impossibility. The sex is all single-sex in the sense that none of the couples copulate. Even husband and wife do not make love. Everyone masturbates more or less secretly. They are extremely introverted beings who cannot express themselves in public. And masturbation also acquires a value of communication with the rest of the world. The way they fine-tune their masturbation becomes a revelation of their personality, just as for others it may be career or art. The level of detail in describing the preparations for these amoral rituals is as delirious as the rituals themselves. The director enjoys meticulously following the demented actions of the protagonists. It is through these complicated preparations that one can understand the personality of the individuals, not through the sexual act itself. In the ending the cartoonist's hand takes over, and so does the surrealist imagination. A great flight of the imagination.
(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)
At a newsstand, a middle-aged man browses porn magazines and buys one. The newsstand owner winks and, as soon as the customer leaves the store, goes back to work on an electronic circuit he keeps hidden under the counter. At home, the first man flips through the magazine and occasionally casts a glance filled with gloom toward the closet. He finally undresses and enters the closet, where he masturbates. He is interrupted by the postmistress, who hands him with a mischievous look (as if she knows something) a letter. The letter contains only the words "to Sunday." The postmistress comes down the stairs and then hides in the hallway making balls out of bread crumbs, as if it were something illegal. The man meanwhile rushes to a store to buy three umbrellas. The newsagent closes the store and rushes home, where he uses the electronic circuit to set up a construction of his own.
He has a large screen on which he watches the news, enraptured by the beautiful presenter. His client keeps a hen in the kitchen. He takes it to his neighbor, a fat floozy, who slits its throat on the landing. The man carefully collects the blood gushing from the severed neck. The postmistress, having finished the first loaf, buys more and continues making balls, still looking furtive. The man plucks the chicken. Another man commits petty theft for no reason. Now he steals a bucket of tools from masons The first man, using makeshift materials, builds a sculpture that is a hen and eventually turns out to be a headdress. The thief steals the tail of a fur coat, as well as a dozen condoms, then returns home and locks himself in the garage. His wife is the presenter and cries alone in the bedroom. The newsboy is always working on his machine, which is composed of an electronic brain from a series of mechanical arms.
While working, she continues to follow the news and wince at the image of the presenter. The first man sees the neighbor leave and takes the opportunity to sneak into her apartment. The room is unclean and chaotic. The man tears umbrellas and uses the sewing machine. Finally he makes two wings. He opens the closet and sees at the bottom a puppet of a man, which makes him cringe. He grabs one of the woman's dresses and runs away. The neighbor takes straw from the garbage. The presenter has bought two fish. From the window she watches what her husband is doing in the garage, still looking dejected. The thief is using all the parts he stole to build strange contraptions. It`s Sunday. The first man dresses up and packs his headgear, plates, glasses, a chicken meal and a bag of blood in a suitcase, to which he also ties a chair. Then he enters the closet with the neighbor`s clothes.
The thief is wandering around town looking for another fur tail and almost runs over the neighbor who is returning. The neighbor goes to a humble chapel, lights her candles, and also enters a closet. The first man instead drives to a field. There he places on a chair a dummy resembling the neighbor, to which he has slipped clothes taken from her, and ties her up. She wears wings and a headdress. The newsagent puts the finishing touches on his robot as the news ends. The neighbor has changed and is now wearing a mask and wielding a whip. She also pulls a dummy that looks like the neighbor out of the closet, and the dummy moves., terrified. The neighbor in turn is flying around his dummy, also terrified, especially as he dribbles a very heavy boulder. The headgear seems to give him the power to fly and the strength to lift boulders. The postmistress is back home, undressing on the bed.
The postmistress places the crumb balls in a basin and sticks two tubes up her nostrils. With these she sucks the balls into her nose.
Then with a funnel the postmistress stuffs more balls into her ears. Then she plugs her ears and nostrils with more balls, lies down on the bed and goes into a trance like a drug addict. The neighbor forces her dummy to undress, trembling. She whips him and each blow damages the fabric and shows the straw underneath. He on the other hand is terrorizing his dummy, always tied to the chair, in no less sadistic fashion. The postmistress wakes up, blows out the balls. The presenter cries. The postmistress brings her a package inside which are the crumb balls, which she feeds to the fish. The first man places the envelope with the chicken`s blood under his dummy`s hat. The presenter and the thief in bed. She is frustrated, he ignores her, and at one point gets up and leaves for the garage. There he massages himself naked with the crazy tools he`s built. The neighbor drowns the puppet in a basin of water on which she has lit three candles. He blows out the candles, gets dressed again.
The thief uses increasingly painful tools to massage his body in a delirium of pleasure. The first man flies up carrying the boulder, then drops it on his dummy`s head. The dummy collapses and chicken blood gushes from its head. He gives the woman the food he had brought with him. The next day the newsagent wakes up and turns on the television. When the presenter comes on, he undresses and activates the machine: her arms caress him all over. When the presenter disappears from the screen, he eats breakfast. As soon as she reappears, he gets up and activates the machine. Gradually the caresses become actual masturbation. In the studio she is also masturbating but through the fish sucking her toes. So on the giant newsstand screen you see her coming just as he comes.
Returning home, the first man bumps into the postmistress who is admiring some fish in the window and throws some straw in the trash. The man goes to the newsstand but this time buys an electronics magazine. The newsagent is working on a sculpture with chicken feathers--the protagonists are exchanging rituals. At home the man sees an ambulance and then the nurses carrying the gurney with the neighbor, who is dead. He goes upstairs and sees the police measuring the scene. There is a rock in the middle of the room and a pool of blood. The police inspector is the presenter's husband. He enters her apartment and finds there a basin of water topped with three candles.... He undresses and the closet opens....
Stop-motion animation is limited also in
Otesanek/ Little Otik (2000), a horror variation on
Karel Jaromir Erben's story "Otesanek". Disguised within the film, there is
a satire of consumerism: commercials are everywhere, selling everything to
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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) is based on Josef and Karel Capek's play "Pictures from the Insects Life".