Jan Svankmajer
Historia Naturae, Suita
Medium: short film
Year: 1967
Writer/director: Jan Svankmajer
Keywords: animation
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech, Latin
Format: 9 minutes
Url: www.imdb.com/title/tt0061766
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 29 March 2013
Not one of Svankmajer's more memorable efforts, but it continues his favourite themes and it has a live armadillo in it.
In short, it's an eight-part history of life that takes us through sea-going invertebrates, bugs, fish, reptiles and amphibians, birds, mammals, monkeys and humans. These are introduced in Latin via lovely and slightly mad illustrations from what looks like an 18th century treatise. Any knuckle-draggers getting upset about the evolutionary overtones in Et Cetera would do well to steer clear of this too, because Svankmajer's making it crystal clear that he sees us as simply another category of beast or fowl. We're an object of scientific study. We're meat machines. We eat every all the other living creatures on our planet, but in the end, we'll be just another bunch of skeletons too.
However on the upside, all this is set to music: Aquatilia (foxtrot), Hexapoda (bolero), Pisces (blues), Reptilia (tarantella), Aves (tango), Mammalia (minuet), Simiae (polka) and Homo (waltz).
The first segment reminded me of A Game With Stones, in the fun Svankmajer's having with animated seashells. You can do more with them than you can with stones. They have spiral patterns and can seem to grow. The flapping faces you can make with them also have more character than the stone-built ones.
Later on, though, we're into less abstract shapes and Svankmajer's having fun with skeletons instead. He likes the contrast between mortal remains (e.g. dead and mounted specimens in glass cages), scientific illustrations and the living, breathing article. We don't see them for long, but this film includes footage of the following live creatures: a tortoise, a frog, a pigeon, chickens, an armadillo, monkeys and a man (his mouth only). Stuffed fish 'swim' around on a table, mounted on their stands. A cage grows and shrinks around a bird's skeleton.
That's it, basically. It's blackly witty in that Svankmajer way, if you're on his wavelength of "look, it's dead!" It's also lively, with cool stuff to look at and of course the music. However it doesn't really have any surprises or much surrealism, unless you count as the latter all the energetic stuffed animals and skeletons. You'll get the hand pretty quickly and after that it's always obvious where we'll be going next. I quite enjoyed it, but it doesn't give the impression of having anything extra that you might try to discover on later viewings.