When a childless couple learn that they cannot have children, it causes great distress. To ease his wife's pain, the man finds a piece of root in the backyard and chops it and varnishes it into the shape of a child. However the woman takes the root as her baby and starts to pretend that it is real. When the root takes life they seem to have gained a child; but its appetite is much greater than a ... See full summary »
A man takes up residence with a mysterious marquis and is soon persuaded to enter into an asylum for preventative therapy. Things are not what they seem, and the marquis may be even more sinister than what the young man may've predicted.
Amateur actors rehearsing "Pictures from the Insects' Life". The actors find themselves living out their characters' roles and hallucinating insects. "Insects", is intercut with the ... See full summary »
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 »
A very free adaptation of Marlowe's 'Doctor Faustus', Goethe's 'Faust' and various other treatments of the old legend of the man who sold his soul to the devil. Svankmajer's Faust is a nondescript man who, after being lured by a strange map into a sinister puppet theatre, finds himself immersed in an indescribably weird version of the play, blending live actors, clay model animation and giant puppets.Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
the nightmare and ecstasy of selling your soul to you-know-who
Jan Svankmajer probably has visions and dreams that few of us would want to have, but luckily for us he's so creative and talented and all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips with a mound of clay and (in this case) marionettes that he can put them all on display on film. His version of Faust is sometimes confusing, bewildering, and, as I gathered from not reading the original play or (sadly) not yet seeing the Murnau silent feature, not altogether makes a lot of sense. This isn't to say the central premise is lost on me, which is of a man who conjures up the force that is Mephistopheles and sells his soul. This is of course shown at one pivotal moment in the film, but if you think you know what to expect from this outcome or how it's presented you might have to rethink things.
If you've seen Svankmajer's other films, however, like Alice, then some of his approach shouldn't seem too far out... Actually, it is always very far out, but in an approachable manner, told often in a classical style of cinema that relies often on the unspoken. In this case it's not as non-dialog laden as Alice, as there are often scenes with the marionettes going on and on with their dialogs, and then with the man and the Satan figure him/itself (whether it's a man or an 'it' I can't say for sure, as Svankmajer makes it a being who materializes first as some skull, then into a near reflection of the man himself as some crazy theologian). What draws one in is the lack of abandon for narrative, and the chances he takes in making it self-conscious. It would be one thing to present the puppets themselves, but the editing is feverish; cuts go between the puppets, their movements, and then those of the puppeteer's hands. We never see their faces, but we always know someone is pulling the strings. This is key.
But beyond simply that, it's just a pure pleasure to take in how the filmmaker mixes the elements, tricks it up on the audience (i.e. after the marionettes inside for so long, they bust out into the streets without puppeteer's hands), and with the stop motion, and the moments of Bunuelian surrealism with the man going between puppet form and reality, and then out in the middle of some field. I can hardly explain more, and it would be better, after all, if he was allowed to introduce himself. Staggering, near masterpiece work.
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