A horror movie testing two approaches to running an insane asylum - absolute freedom versus control and punishment - within the context of a world that combines the worst of both. Jean ... See full summary »
After being forcefully inducted as a soldier into war in 14th century Japan, his wife and mother remain living in a swamp. They eke out their living by ambushing worn-out warriors, killing ... See full summary »
A historical view of witchcraft in seven parts and a variety of styles. First, there is a slide-show alternating inter-titles with drawings and paintings to illustrate the behavior of pagan... See full summary »
A horror movie testing two approaches to running an insane asylum - absolute freedom versus control and punishment - within the context of a world that combines the worst of both. Jean Berlot, a young man subject to a nightmare of being forced into a straitjacket by two orderlies, is befriended by a marquis. At the marquis's estate, Jean witnesses a black Mass, buries someone alive, and is invited to try preventive therapy. He's willing to enter a sanatorium because he believes he can rescue a young woman from there who has told him that the real director and staff of the clinic are locked in the basement. Jean conspires with her to set them free: the horrors have only begun. Written by
Jan Svankmajer is a filmmaker who started out in animation, and made dozens of short films, most of them in surrealist settings and modes, and it was only when he got into feature films that he used live-action a lot more. This might explain why when he directs live-action you may not see certain usual things in movies, like with characters talking to the camera when in conversation (not sure if this breaks the 180-degree rule or not), or in a couple of awkward edits or his penchant for close-ups on mouths speaking words. And yet with each passing film I've come across from him- Alice, Faust, Little Otik- he gets a little better each time around. Now with Lunacy, his latest feature, it's by far his most assured and confidently insane direction (and rightfully so for this!) and featuring only minimal stop-motion animation. Thankfull, this animation is with pieces of meat put to piano honky tonk music.
But aside from the direction being stronger, and Svankmajer's actors being better than usual, it's such a thematically rich film that only a surrealist could pull off: one might say 'what does this mean or what's the symbol of the body doing that or that piece of food or the tar and feather or 13 punishments?' Secretly, Svankmajer's response, probably akin to Bunuel, would be 'does it ultimately matter?' In the scope of Lunacy, a film based on works by Poe and Marquis de Sade (what parts are which will only be known to those who've read the specific Poe stories, or are familiar enough with Sade, though I can likely guess the latter's influence in the last fifteen minutes), it's about the simple question: who's sane or not, and what defines sanity? Our protagonist, whom we think is the sanest of all, has recurring nightmares of men coming into his room at night with a straight-jacket ready to take him away and then his super-violent reaction. Is he, perhaps, any less wacko than the Marquis, or his fellow Doctor with the fake beards?
Well... maybe, comparatively, he is saner, but the question still stands amid a matter of degree; towards the end we're faced with the question of sanity in the face of "corporal punishment." Maybe the point is akin to the old George Carlin line about life being a freak-show and being born is just getting a ticket for the ride. Jean (Pavel Liska) is on his way back from his mother's funeral and is "befriended" (very loose quotes) by a Marquis (perfectly cast Jan Triska, definitely one of the creepiest of all screen villains) who by horse and buggy in present day takes him to his castle where Jean witnesses "blasphemous" acts at night with the Marquis and a bunch of naked ladies in a barn with an over-nailed cross. One thing leads to another- including a presumed suffocation by banana- and the Marquis oddly convinces Jean to come to the sanitarium to get some voluntary 'assistance'. Once there, it's a total upside-down cake where the lunatics have taken over, so to speak and literally, as the Marquis and Dr. Murloppe run rough-shod as the real doctors are locked in the basement, tarred and feathered with a bunch of chickens.
So much of this is rich and densely packed material that it kind of goes by simply. Ironic then (or maybe as a good old told-with-a-straight-faced joke) that Svankmajer makes an intro before the film about how "this is not art, art is probably dead anyway" when his film is just that: whacked out film-art to the tune of classic horror, as the genre goes, and as classic satire. This is full-bodied satire throughout, even when the style might suggest otherwise; just watch that super-crazy (however somewhat lucid) scene where the Marquis and doctor stage a reading and a kind of still-life of sorts in recreating a painting with the loonies- how the camera slides along those clapping hands and the Marquis reciting the words so eloquently. It's like a momentary glimpse at the blinding power of empowerment, of everyone in the room including Jean with getting poor Charlotte off the stage. While there are tendencies for it to get nasty (just in those 13 Sadistic punishments, no pun intended), the focus is always clear and powerful... and ultimately very funny.
Did I mention the meat seq-ways? This is just by itself extraordinary work and adds to the confounded but amazing artistry in the project. So much work was put in to tell these little stories of pieces of meat forming together, tongues and eyeballs, meat being tarred and feathered and humping, meat getting pecked at by chickens, etc. The combination of this and the fantastic live-action propel it up to being Svankmajer's best I've seen yet, and by the end we're left with whatever interpretation we want: does the meat represent the people going whatever way they will to form new shapes, or is commentary on what's going on in the story, or is it just eye-popping animation for the hell of the entire theme of lunacy all over the place? Why show any of this dark and despairing philosophical and psychological and physical things? Svankmajer's answer, undoubtedly, would be "why not?" A+
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