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

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Animation | Short | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

Lewis Carroll's poem is read and followed by a free-form animated depiction of images and toys from childhood, repeatedly overturned by a live cat.

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Jídlo (1993)
Animation | Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

BREAKFAST: After eating breakfast, a man is transformed into an elaborate dumb-waiter-style breakfast dispenser - and the same fate befalls the man who obtains breakfast from him. LUNCH: ... See full summary »

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Stars: Ludvík Sváb, Bedrich Glaser, Jan Kraus
Et Cetera (1967)
Animation | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

A small, animated figure learns how to use a whip, a pair of wings and a house.

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Animation | Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

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 »

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Do pivnice (1983)
Animation | Short | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A little girl goes down to the basement cellar to fetch some potatoes, and finds all her hidden fears about the cellar depicted in animated form.

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Stars: Monika Belo-Cabanová, Olga Vronská, Aleksandr Letko
Animation | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

A bust of Stalin is cut open on an operating table, leading to an elaborate animated depiction of Czech history from 1948 (the Communist takeover) to 1989 (the Velvet Revolution). Some ... See full summary »

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Zahrada (1968)
Short | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

Josef shows his friend Frank his garden and his rabbits. Frank is most interested in the unsettling fact that Josef's garden fence is entirely made up of living people holding hands.

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Stars: Jirí Hálek, Ludek Kopriva, Míla Myslíková
Animation | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

Various objects are having a sunny outing together in the nature.

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Rakvickarna (1966)
Animation | Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Two puppets, Punch and Joey, do battle to the death over the custody of a live guinea pig.

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Stars: Nad'a Munzarová, Jirí Procházka, Bohuslav Srámek
Manly Games (1989)
Animation | Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

A man sits down to watch a football match, which seems to consist of the players being violently mutilated in various inventive ways. The players then leave the football pitch and invade ... See full summary »

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Stars: Miroslav Kuchar
Hra s kameny (1967)
Animation | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

Stones of different shapes and colors live and die together.

Director: Jan Svankmajer
Kostnice (1970)
Documentary | Short | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

A non-narrative voyage round Sedlec Ossuary, which has been constructed from over 50,000 human skeletons (victims of the Black Death).

Director: Jan Svankmajer
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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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A suffocating and sardonic short-form satire from Švankmajer
14 April 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

My first experience of Czech animator and filmmaker Jan Švankmajer'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 Byt, or The Flat (1968), standing as Svankmajer's earliest experiment in live-action film-making, and one that continues a number of themes and motifs developed in his previous work, in particular The Last Trick (1964) and The Garden (1968).

Even with this in mind, Byt is an entirely different kind of film from what we might normally expect to see from Švankmajer, with the live action elements driving the story, while the more broadly recognisable aspects of stop-motion animation are utilised as mere special effects. Regardless, the story here is truly fascinating; with Švankmajer creating an extraordinary work of pure, cinematic imagination that not only impresses and excels on the level of pure entertainment, but also offers deeper themes and interpretations presented as highly intelligent satire. It also shows Švankmajer tapping into the territory of his fellow countryman and contemporary Roman Polanski, and in particular, Polanski's cinema of confinement. In this respect you could draw obvious parallels with a film such as Repulsion (1965), not to mention the more recognisable psychological themes presented in other Polanski works, such as Knife in the Water (1962) and Cul-de-sac (1966).

You could also argue that there was something of cross-reference of influences going on here, with Švankmajer taking influence from Repulsion whilst Polanski would take certain elements from this film and apply them to his later flawed masterwork, The Tenant (1976). However, whereas Polanski's work was intended to terrorise the audience, both on a playful and entirely devastating level, the sense of suffocating claustrophobia and mocking surrealism presented by Švankmajer here is somewhat sardonic; intended to entertain as well as provoke, and clearly offering something of a political comment on the state of post-Second World War Europe. The fact that the film features an appearance from fellow filmmaker Juraj Herz is also interesting, with Herz creating one of the greatest films of the Czech New Wave, The Cremator (1968). As with that particular film, Byt makes obvious references to the treatment of the Jews both before and during the Holocaust, and the general sense of fear and paranoia that was immediately recognisable to European filmmakers of Švankmajer's generation.

There are of course deeper themes and issues expressed in the film than this, but your understanding and interpretation of them can easily come secondary to your enjoyment of Švankmajer's great style and lasting atmosphere. The film could also be seen as something on an influence on Sam Raimi's classic no-budget shocker The Evil Dead (1983), with the idea of a character confined to a single location that reacts against him in a way that is both horrifying and surreal. This similarity is also illustrated by the use of stop-motion animation alongside elements of live action, something that may have also been an influence to Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto on imaginative and expressionistic films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988) and Tokyo Fist (1995).

Despite misgivings from certain Švankmajer devotees who feel that the over-reliance on live action animations is ineffective, this film for me ranks amongst the very best of the filmmaker's short-form, experimental works. The mood and style created by Švankmajer here is extraordinary, with the filmmaker creating a range of emotions from terror to confusion and even slapstick comedy. In this respect, he is aided by the great performance from Ivan Kraus as the man trapped in this confusing psychological space, and by the subtle use of metaphor and symbolism that seems to suggest so much, without offering any kind of easy answers.


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