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I first discovered Jan Svankmajer when I watched the insane 'comedy' Conspirators of Pleasure on Channel 4 one night. It's a 70 minute film which contains no dialogue and concerns a handful of characters who indulge themselves in strange fetishes. These include inhaling small balls of bread and dressing up as a chicken and prancing around a mannequin. It's one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had and whilst I didn't particularly 'like' it, I certainly could never forget it! So when another Jan film popped up on the telly, I couldn't resist giving it a record!
Whilst Surviving Life isn't quite as bizarre as Conspirators of Pleasure, it is certainly about as unconventional as you can get. For a starters an animated photo of Jan himself pops up and tells us about how they had to use photos instead of real-life locations because the budget was so small. He then went onto say that this introduction isn't here because he's a narcissist, rather that the film was too short without it. This is of course a load of baloney as the film was far too long even without the introduction! Although it did make me chuckle.
So the film is partly animated and partly live acted. It flicks between animated photo to live acting in a distracting manner. The fact that all the live parts are filmed in a big close-up makes the film a very claustrophobic experience. In the end it became quite irritating, however I can appreciate the amount of effort that went into making its unique style. You do have it to hand it to Jan though, as he's one of the very few directors trying something new in the world of film.
The story itself isn't much cop. It's about a man who wants to dream in order to carry out an affair with a young woman. However, various complications arise as we learn what his dreams really mean with the help of a psychoanalyst. It's not particularly engaging, and it runs on for far too long. However, I do have to say that the last scene was incredibly clever and fairly disturbing. It does go to show that the story is much deeper than it first appears.
I doubt that most people would be able to tolerate Surviving Life. It did begin to wear out after the first hour, and the comedy aspects are far more disturbing than funny. Seeing a man with a dog's head have sex with a poodle isn't my idea of a fun night out! I do admire the effort that was put into the animation though, and it is refreshing to see a wholly unique style being used. Unfortunately, despite a intelligent ending, the film is definitely more style over substance.
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