Jan Svankmajer
Virile Games
Also known as: The Male Game
Medium: short film
Year: 1988
Writer/director: Jan Svankmajer
Keywords: animation, favourite
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech
Format: 17 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095683
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 14 November 2013
We begin with a bloke in an unpleasant flat. Startlingly for Svankmajer, this is in colour and shot realistically, almost documentary style. Nothing surreal's happened yet. It's a real apartment with a real person in it (Miroslav Kuchar). It's inconceivable that a woman also lives there, incidentally. This bloke's idea of tidying things up is to put other things on top of them. Anyway, our hero gets a beer from the fridge, turns on the television and gets ready to watch... FOOTBALL!
Yes, football is the Virile Game of the title and football fans are manly he-men! Just look at him, slumped in front of his television. That's a real man, that is. This is underlined when Svankmajer puts Kuchar's face on all the players and the referee, just to emphasise the "we murdered them" false identification through which we're meant to be filtering the sport we're watching.
The football begins. It's an absurdist ballet, with varying animation styles. (Bloke In Flat meanwhile eats and drinks a lot.)
Then we get our first murder. There will be lots of these, all involving imaginative things being done to claymation heads. These get more and more outrageous until they're eventually funny. The toy train murder is the one where it becomes clear that Svankmajer's in black comedy mode, I think. The corpse collapses! The ref blows his whistle! The crowd goes wild! And, yes, the score advances. The scoreline in this game has nothing to do with goals, balls or anything like that, but how many opponents you can murder. The good news though is that death doesn't necessarily stop you from playing, because your coffin is allowed to glide on to the pitch and start pushing around the ball like anyone else.
This isn't a conventional comedy, but it had me grinning from ear to ear. Look at the half-time advertising break. KITTENS. Cute kittens, playing on TV. What does our hero do? Answer: go and take a piss.
The second half is even wackier, as Svankmajer blurs still further the boundaries between the game and the spectators. There are crowd control problems and a pitch invasion. Bottles are broken in faces. (The 1980s and early 1990s were a bad time for football hooliganism, incidentally, which wasn't restricted to Britain despite being known as the English Disease. Eastern Europe even today still has it bad, for what it's worth. It's common in Poland, for instance, while Turkish football hooligans are organised with leaders and a code of conduct. Stabbings must be below the waist. That makes all okay, then.)
I'll stop describing what happens, because it would be wrong to spoil all of Svankmajer's fun. I laughed. It's awesome. I love the song, for instance, which sounds impressive and I presume is nationalist and/or football-related. Svankmajer's not attacking the game itself, but instead the violence that's often associated with it and, above all, the disturbing psychology of some football fans.
I loved it. One of my favourites.