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
A lot of viewers seem to praise Svankmajer for the lunacy of his visual imagination, for the grotesque insides he's willing to lay out. I admit there is stuff worth taking from him, notions I would be interested to engage. But a lot of what he does is so blunt that I mostly want to take a step back, he can be embarrassing to watch, for example here the petulant tirade against god; what kind of god creates only in order to destroy, why doesn't he spare us the pain? Well, precisely the god, meant broadly, the universe that creates again. How selfish, how religiously salvational, exactly the thing he rants against, to think it was all going to last forever!
He favors stark allegories, and this is one of the least subtle he has delivered: distinctions between tyranny and freedom as the ways to govern the world madhouse. We see one, then the other, always with an eye on the world at large, or so it goes.
There is one interesting bit in all this, a clever staging; a tableaux vivant that recreates Delacroix's 'Liberty', where inmates who are ostensibly free to be as creatively mad as they want are marshaled into position as living props. During the stageshow later, one of them actually attacks in a fit of lust the woman portraying liberty. Of course unbound freedom can spawn its own despots, we're meant to take this lesson ambiguously.
It's all wrapped in Poe; 'Premature Burial' as backstory attached to de Sade, a pendulum shot, the main thrust is from 'Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether'. And there is an experimental short woven through the film, typical Svankmajer stuff that he does best about animated slabs of meat trying to enter the narrative, or substituting for insights that can't be articulated there.
But it's never quite as erudite as it would like to be. The final image is unremittingly blunt; modern man as another slab of meat in a long row, a prepackaged exhibit suffocating in his modern cellophane wrap.
I suggest you watch instead The Hourglass Sanatorium, another Eastern European film about a damaged man mingling with madness in an effort to restore in him parts missing - the quest in both is for subconscious images of a parent. But that film unswathed in a dozen different layers, offering on the whole the purely symbolic construct of a graven image, but as a space of metaphysical contemplation on the placement of the soul in the cosmic grind. Here, it's one allegory broken out in so many authoritarian asides.
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