A three-part depiction of various forms of communication. 'Factual Discussion' depicts three heads (made up of fruit, kitchen utensils and writing implements respectively) endlessly ... See full summary »
Svankmajer's first experiment is interesting, but certainly no masterpiece
My first experience of Czech animator and filmmaker Jan Svankmajer's unusual cinematic world came via the more traditionally structured film Little Otik (2000). In that film we had the notion of a wooden puppet-like figure being brought to life in a more psychological reinterpretation of the world of Pinocchio, as well as various Eastern European folktales; with Svankmajer's usually startling imagination held back by some literally wooden performances and a rather flat visual presentation. With that, his most recent film in mind, we come to the film in question; with The Last Trick (1964) standing as Svankmajer's earliest experiment in short-form film-making and one that introduces a number of themes that will be further developed in his subsequent works.
This is no doubt a slight film within the lexicon of Svankmajer's career, with the set up and the execution both seeming incredibly simple and thematically naive. Essentially a film about performance albeit, created completely without the aid of conventional performers - we begin the film with the creation of two puppet magicians, who - over the course of the short running time - try to outdo one another with a series of wilder and eventually more elaborate visual tricks. That is the plot. The director takes his time to engage us in the theatrics of the story - constructing his scenes to a musical rhythm - before eventually revealing his true intention, by way of a lame pun. There are still some wonderful elements though; such as a strong use of composition, a bold sense of colour, not to mention Svankmajer's always impressive use of stop motion animation.
However, despite all this visual wonderment, one cannot help but feel a little cheated by the slightness of the director's vision and the bluntness his moral message, though I suppose such misgivings are always an issue with an artists' first work. For me, this is one for the Svankmajer devotees only (which, if you're reading this, probably means you). We may marvel at the director's over-the-top use of the visual medium, coupled with the expertise of his team, but at the end of the day, this is merely a sketch for the more interesting and accomplished films still to come.
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