A nondescript man is trapped in a sinister flat, where nothing seems to obey the laws of nature.

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Ivan Kraus ...
Man
Juraj Herz ...
Visitor
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A nondescript man is trapped in a sinister flat, where nothing seems to obey the laws of nature.

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9 November 2006 (Germany)  »

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The Flat  »

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Frustration
10 December 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

There's probably some greater meaning to this short film from Jan Svankmajer, but I'm not even going to bother with it. All that you need to know is that 'Byt / The Flat (1968)' involves a man trapped in an apartment that more closely resembles a carnival house-of-horrors, and where the laws of physics and logic don't hold much sway. From this simple premise, the Czech Republic's master animator reaches into the bizarre depths of his mind to construct a version reality that doesn't quite make sense; it's a surreal nightmare where nothing operates as it should, everything goes wrong, and it seems that the frustration will never end. Water spews forth from a wood-fire stove; a single swinging lightbulb bashes a hole in the brick wall; a hearty meal goes uneaten when the utensils constantly play up; a water tap disgorges a solid rock. This is one of Svankmajer's few ventures into live-action film-making, though the technique of stop-motion – utilised so effectively in films such as 'Dimensions of Dialogue (1982)' – forms the backbone of his creepy visual effects.

It may all mean something, but I'm more interested in the mood that Svankmajer is able to create through his use of visuals, particularly the stop-motion, which leaves the viewer bewildered and disorientated. The images are accompanied by an original soundtrack by Zdenek Liska, but it's often too dramatic and overwhelming to suit the film; something more restrained and mysterious would, I think, have been more appropriate to the tone for which Svankmajer was aiming. Ivan Kraus portrays the flat's unfortunate victim, and he responds to each new obstacle with a stunned deadpan frown that only occasionally betrays the enormous frustration and desperation that he is experiencing. The short film ends with the man, having bizarrely just encountered a visitor wielding an axe and a chicken, tearing down a wooden door to reveal a wall of signed names, with a pencil dangling alongside. Some have interpreted this as referencing the secret police interrogations that took place in Czechoslovakia when the Soviets invaded in 1968. It's a compelling theory, I'll admit, but I enjoyed 'Byt' mainly for its visuals.


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