Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer, best known for his bizarre, mostly short features combining clay animation with live action, has devised an 87-minute meditation on the unruly demands of desire, focusing on the elaborate measures some people will go to for respites from their dreary existences, and the comically grotesque forms such time-outs may take.
The film, which has no talking (aside from a TV newscast) but plenty of sound, follows six characters in their personalized pursuits of pleasure. One man drives to a deserted spot in the country, dons a papier-mâché rooster mask and huge homemade wings and terrorizes a clumsily made effigy of the woman who lives across the hall from him (and, yes, he can fly); the woman, meanwhile, enters a large, dank dungeon which somehow exists behind her closet and, in full dominatrix gear, whips and grinds her heel into a life-sized and appropriately terrorized puppet (and, yes, the puppet can express terror).
Another woman, a mail carrier who radiates terminal boredom, achieves satori in the privacy of her bedroom by inserting large quantities of small, tightly rolled balls of bread into her nose and ears. More conventional, in this context, is the man who enjoys the simple pleasure of passing a rolling pin embedded with nails over his nude body, as well as various furry fetish objects he's gathered during the day.
Space prevents me from mentioning, except briefly, the toe-sucking carp and the masturbation machine, but you get the idea. Or perhaps not, for Svankmajer's great achievement is that none of these fantastical "perversions" seem repulsive (OK, maybe the carp); the tone of the film is droll, only gently mocking and more than a little sympathetic. These are ordinary people who cobble their fantasies with practical, even admirable industry. They don't know each other, but when their paths cross they exchange wary, sometimes knowing glances &emdash; just average folk, but co-conspirators in the realm of libidinous imagination. Instead of a queasy exposure of dark appetites, Svankmajer's look at the creativity of need is both slyly witty and oddly poignant.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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