Thinky is finding it quite difficult to stop being so taken with anything Jan Svankmajer creates. This jewel of the Czech Republic is perhaps, in terms of film, it’s most famous and renowned export.
Yet a rare one with the ability to surface above being stapled a commodity and actually create his own niche in the world, which tends to surpass all expectations, both creatively and in regards to entertain.
His newest endeavour, Little Otik (Otesanek), based on a surreal Czech fairy tale, filmmaker-animator Svankmajer brings considerable skill and wit to this otherworldly, cautionary story. It’s effective–funny and very creepy–but could have worked even better with a bit more focus and some judicious editing.
His warped version of the Czech classic centers around Bozena and Karel Horak (Zilkova and Hartl), whom are a childless couple who buy a summer house to try and get on with their life. When Karel digs up a tree stump in the garden, he thinks it looks a bit like an infant boy, so he polishes it up and gives it to his wife, feeding her obsession for a child.
But her love brings little Otik to life, and he has a voracious appetite … for people! The nosy little girl next door (Adamcova) figures out what’s going on (she’s read the tale of ), but her parents (Kretschmerova and Novy) don’t listen to her, so she has to take matters into her own hands.
Loaded with cruel humour, the film keeps our interest even as it rambles on-in terms that the two hour length (Svankmajer’s longest film to date) is for too much.
The characters are very cleverly drawn and played – half caricature but also real people we can identify with in their fears, curiosities and most of all the torn loyalties of wanting to nurture a child even though he’s a murderous monster!
For the Horaks, their “child” is a mixed blessing: a mother’s ecstasy, a father’s hell. But it’s the film’s cheekiness that wins us over–the dynamics of the neighbours in the apartment building, terrific character details, the wicked stop-motion animation that brings Otik (and other things) to life.
It brings to mind the edgy wackiness of Jeunet & Caro blended with the surreal dark beauty of Buñuel, by way of Being John Malkovich. But ·vankmayer doesn’t know where to pull back, and he overloads the film with repetitive scenes – it’s easily a half-hour too long – that muddle his message about tampering with the natural order of things.
This is still a true original, and well worth seeing. But a sharper, crisper edit would have made the film spring to life even more effectively.
Thinky says: Time to buy a chainsaw.