Jan Svankmajer
A Game With Stones
Medium: short film
Year: 1965
Writer/director: Jan Svankmajer
Keywords: animation
Country: Austria
Language: German
Format: 8 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059746/
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 16 March 2013
Stones of different shapes and colors live and die together.
It's Jan Svankmajer's third short animated film. As before there's no plot in the normal sense and no characters whatsoever, but it feels deeper than The Last Trick and perhaps a sort of continuation of Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasy in G minor. There's an ever-turning circle of life, even though what's living are stones, and we get regular death and resurrection... until eventually the mechanism breaks and there's just death.
Somehow this bald presentation gains an abstract kind of power from the fact that they're just stones. This removes the possibility of sentimentality and anthropomorphism. Instead I personally got the impression that it's emphasising the arbitrary clockwork nature of Svankmajer's universe, one's helplessness within it and the finality of death. Cheery, eh?
However at the same time, it's also just Svankmajer goofing around with stop-motion animation. The title is true. It's just A Game With Stones.
It goes on a bit long, perhaps. It's interesting to see stop-motion animation with objects so fixed and unexpressive, but it's all abstract and so it's all basically the same. Six minutes would have been no problem. You see, you can't reshape a stone, although you can break it up. (Svankmajer does that later on, when the stones start eating and smashing up each other. Bad stones. One could argue that this was what caused Judgement Day and the death of all stones, which would achieve the near-impossible of making Svankmajer's position even bleaker.) Anyway, the animation involves moving stones around in patterns and replacing them with other, similar-sized stones. They seem to coalesce and grow. They arrange themselves into anatomically correct figures, faces and body parts. They do mathematical dances.
The animation isn't smooth, though. It's not convincing or naturalistic. It's a little jerky, as another almost Brechtian barrier between you and the living stones.
The cycle of life involves an antique clock, a hurdy-gurdy (?) and a bucket on a rope. The hurdy-gurdy plays music, because that's its job. Like the clock, it's effectively measuring time. Meanwhile the antique clock doesn't spit out a cuckoo, but you wouldn't be surprised if it did. Instead it supports the bucket. Stones drip out of a tap like water. Then, when it's time to die, the bucket will tip out all the stones on the floor below.
I liked the stones themselves. Stones are great and it's lovely to see a celebration of them. Svankmajer's aware of their textures and colours, which at their best can be wonderful.
It's a short and weird-looking film into which you can read as much or as little as you like. You could start trying to interpret the fact that the stones not live, move, dance and then eventually take on the shapes of living creatures. You could notice the fact that the amount of rust and the position of the hurdy-gurdy's screw keep changing, making time non-linear in this movie that's all about time. (That's probably just Svankmajer playing around with the order of the scenes he'd shot, but it's still part of the text and open for audience interpretation.)
Or alternatively you could just enjoy eight minutes of extremely busy stones.