Monday, June 20, 2005

Film: Conspirators of pleasure

Eh, eh, after hearing the name of this film, many people asked me whether it’s porn. It’s not porn, it barely has any sexual content, and yet it’s one of the weirdest and kinkiest films I’ve seen.

But Jan Svankmajer seems to be a very weird man anyway. He is Czech stop-motion animator who dedicated his stop-motion skills to bringing to life grim world of man’s deeply hidden fantasies and fears. Needles to say, these toons are not for kids. But that’s nothing unusual, animated films are more often not for kids than yes. It’s just that those others get better distribution.

Svankmajer bases his films on combination of live action and life-size stop-motion animation, allowing the second to bring unusual and unexpected sights into the world of the first one. This conception forces a certain stiff directing style on Svankmajer: he uses a lot of close cuts on object (often, hands) and barely any camera movement. That way, when the stop-motion takes it’s turn, there is no leap.

His films are very theatrical, which, again, may as well be result of his beginnings in theatre.

Stop-motion animation may not be as smooth as the one of Harry Selznik, but then again, Svankmajer manipulates with life-size objects with no help of computers, and the entire world of his movies is not so smooth anyway. On the contrary, in Svankmajer’s movies we see dirty walls, old furniture, ripped clothes, and there seems to be a social content in there, avoided but still implied. His films usually feature no more than a few words spoken, they mostly rely on visual.

It’s only logical that Svankmajer would choose to film “Alice” in wonderland”. The result was one grimy, bizarre world with plush White bunny keeping his pocket watch inside his chest, where his heart would be, and Centipede becoming from enlivened sock, set of fake teeth and two eyeballs. Film follows the original story closely, but lends it a unique visual style that gives the story psychoanalytical and fearful connotations.

Other big piece of literature that Svankmajer filmed was “Faust”. This film features very little stop-motion. It’s place is taken by marionettes, puppets, that enliven Faust’s surreal persona (while the real is acted by Petr Cepek); He meets devil and his minion mostly in a puppet form. The most stunning scene in the film is still one of rare featuring stop-motion animation: The one where Faust makes a baby out of clay and breaths life in it; Then, when the baby starts to form weird and fearful shapes, he destroys it, squishing the clay while still recognizable arms and legs squiggle between his fingers. The scene that strongly emphasizes Faust’s reckless curiosity, his thirst for knowledge and in the same time, fear from it.

There’s another film of his I’ve seen, ten minutes long “Jabberwocky”, that I consider most stunning of his work – except for the Film in the title of this text. “Jabberwocky” is a cheerfully grim play of childhood. There’s a naively cruel (empty) child school uniform dancing across the screen, there’s a lot of toys transforming into dangerous and potentially violent objects, like the pocket knife piercing through the tablecloth while it joyously hops around; A condom-holder sweeping an army of small soldiers in one move; Brutal torture of plastic dolls (no doll was harmed during making of this movie, eh?) This vile play is occasionally interrupted by attempts to find the way out of drawn labyrinth. When we finally make it through the labyrinth, there is no school uniform in the closet anymore: there’s a grown man’s suit.

And now, “Conspirators of pleasure” (or as I like to call it in it’s original name: “Spiklenci slasti”. Or just “Spiklenci”, has a nice ring to it.). This movie, just like “Faust”, has a very little animation in it, but it’s exceptionally effective. It’s like a movie Svankmajer was born to make.

What is it about? I don’t think it’s even possible to explain. I’ll try, however. He parallel follow a group of people, walking about their own business, be it postman, housekeeper or TV speaker, and we see them as they stop by, take their time to do strange, conspirative things, like buying a bunch of brushes in various sizes, or making little balls out of the middle of the bread and collecting them. Especially interesting is a skinny tenant, who slays a chicken, then resourcefully uses its parts to make a mask. We follow those silent actions in close cuts, wondering “Why the hell are they doing all that?”

They are going about to make their weird, fetishist, surreal (and possibly sexual?) fantasies alive, there’s a lot of meticulous preparing of the needed equipment and thorough planning (because that day, everything has to go the way they intended, even the needed lunch break), and we get really absorbed into the level of elaboration with which they do their preparations. Then, the day has come – yep, basically, months of preparing for just one day of pleasure: young women might’ve collected bread balls for months, to use them only once. This is, of course, where we see stop-motion animation, as the fantasies became alive and straw dolls start to move and feel. It’s all one funny, absorbing and disturbing mash of psychoanalysis. And there’s nearly no actual sexual content in there. Just an assumption.

And then, next day, they go on about their own business again, looking for new fantasies and new thrills.


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