Jan Svankmajer
Medium: short film
Year: 1993
Writer/director: Jan Svankmajer
Keywords: animation, favourite
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech, English
Actor: Ludvik Svab, Bedrich Glaser, Jan Kraus, Pavel Marek, Josef Fiala, Karel Hamr, Jaromir Kallista
Format: 17 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104285/
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 8 June 2013
Unique, even for Svankmajer. He loves doing things that have never been done before and I don't think his short films ever stopped reinventing the medium. Almost every time I watch one, he surprises me afresh.
This though is his freakiest... animated people. (Caveat: I'm not watching these in order and maybe he's done that in another film too.)
I'll explain. We're looking at people. Regular, actual people, played by actors. They're sitting at a real table, in a real room, holding realistic props. There's nothing unusual about them at all... except that their movement is being done as stop-motion animation. Instead of simply telling his actors to do something in real time, Svankmajer's making them hold lots of slightly different sequential poses and capturing this, frame by frame.
This is insane. In a mad, theoretical sense it's the obvious thing to do, since it's much easier than, say, drawing lots of pictures. The important thing though is that it's turning people into Svankmajer objects in a Svankmajer universe, occasionally distorted further by claymation that lets people swallow things bigger than their heads. It's reality, but rendered unreal. Other tricks include, for instance, not letting people walk normally but instead glide around as if being pulled on a trolley. Of all the surrealist tricks we've seen from Svankmajer, this is, for me, the most deranged. It's brilliant. I'm in awe.
It's another three-part film.
1. Breakfast
Adventures of a human food dispenser. I suspect that this is a parody of officialdom and the artificial, dehumanising effect of modern life. It's also the most imaginative and complex of the three segments, not being an extrapolation of one simple idea but instead more layered and peculiar.
To me, it feels like a remembered dream. I'm not saying that's what it is, but I can't find a better way to describe the developments it's capable of. It's as if Svankmajer once had a nightmare and rather liked it.
2. Lunch
A simpler idea, but just as freaky to look at. It's also funny. It plays almost like a comedy sketch, with two contrasting dining companions. One is fastidious, dabs daintily with his napkin and always uses a knife and fork... but he's also obviously more well-off than his companion and a bastard who'd happily eat all the food without sharing anything.
The other is a poor, badly dressed student with no table manners.
These two gentlemen are in a restaurant where they can't catch the waiter's attention. However they're hungry. It won't take you long to work out where Svankmajer's going with this, but it's hugely entertaining to watch it play out anyway because it's so ridiculous and impossible. Also important is the humour. The characters are strongly (but wordlessly) portrayed and bounce off each other. It's like a silent film. There's something universal about the comedy of table manners, while the underwear-smelling (for instance) made me laugh too.
3. Dinner
This is the simplest and slightest of the segments, but what makes it interesting is that it's not just SPOILER but self-SPOILER. They're doing it to themselves. Hence nailing the fork to the hand, for instance. That makes it a more profound statement, I think, even before you've got to the false modesty with the genitals on a plate.
In short: brilliant. Svankmajer's stuff is all brilliant, of course, but for me this is a favourite. Stop-motion animated humans are freaky-looking, but more importantly they're also doing something unique for the surrealism. Meanwhile what Svankmajer's saying is as caustic and unexpected as ever, offering much to think about. It's superb.