Jan Svankmajer
Et Cetera
Medium: short film
Year: 1966
Writer/director: Jan Svankmajer
Keywords: animation
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech
Format: 8 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060383
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 29 March 2013
I really enjoyed this one. It's fun and, in an abstract way, almost witty.
As the name suggests, it's about repetition and things going around in circles. One of those is evolution, which I'm going to speculate is the reason for one somewhat bristling review I've read from America. I like it more just for that. Anyway, personally I thought this was great. It doesn't have a plot, any dialogue or anything that would be generally regarded as characters, but that's business as usual for Svankmajer. The theme unifies it as an artistic exercise and makes it work.
What it does have is style. For once it has no puppets, instead being proper animation, but Svankmajer has divided his short film into three micro-films, each with its own unique animation style that's a delight to watch and unlike anything I'd ever seen before.
The film begins with "FINE", which I presume is Czech for "the end". After that, Svankmajer jumps into jolly intertitles saying "Et Cetera", which he'll return to throughout as visual punctuation.
1ST SEGMENT - A sort of charcoal shadow man is in what looks like a Victorian scientific journal. Underneath his feet are illustrations of different kinds of wings. He's going to use them to jump between two chairs. No, this doesn't make much sense to me either, but it's fascinating to look at.
2ND SEGMENT - My favourite. It's done in primitive watercolours in fluid, vivid hues, with every frame presumably being a all-new painting. You could imagine something similar on cave walls. It involves a man, a beast and a whip. It took me a minute to see where I thought this was going, but what gobsmacked me shortly afterwards was the fact that I'd completely missed what had happened in plain sight on the other side of the screen. This segment is as simple and abstract as everything else in this short film, but what makes it the best of the three for me is the clarity with which it's conveying its (appealing) meaning. Even a tiny child would immediately understand and appreciate what Svankmajer's saying here.
3RD SEGMENT - A man tries to draw a house, but unfortunately he only exists in two dimensions and has no way of inventing the door. This one's not as transparently clear as the second segment and needs more repetitions to convey what it's saying to the audience, but it's still fun to look at. Meanwhile the animation style involves making our protagonist a moving cut-out into a world of unrelated static illustrations. Now in fairness I've seen this elsewhere. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo did something similar, for instance, but that was a stylistically extreme SF anime that was pushing the envelope in what could be regarded as acceptable in 21st century computer-assisted colouring. This is Svankmajer doing the same thing by hand in 1966.
I liked this a lot. I'm not sure if it necessarily means anything, but it seems a general theme that mankind and his efforts are being made to look a bit silly. That's very Svankmajer. It means whatever you want it to mean, really. It's flexible and vivid enough that two people could enjoy it and find their own completely different interpretations in it. It's also more accessible than most of his work and you'd happily show it to small children, which you wouldn't necessarily say of, say, Lunacy or Don Juan. In its abstract, repetitive way, it's almost enthralling.