I recommend the collection of shorts called The Ossuary and Other Tales particularly the short title film and the longer piece “Don Juan.” “The Ossuary” is a kind of film poem documenting the chapel built from bones in Sedlec, Czechoslavakia–containing bones from the bodies of approximately 40,000 bodies. The disturbing but compelling images are juxtaposed with a soundtrack recorded from a school visit to the church, a teacher lecturing her young students on the work that went into the chapel, but mainly hectoring them with the directive not to touch any of the bones (they must pay a fine if they do!); inevitably one does and the ghoulish tour ends with a vigorous chastisement. It’s a witty film….as much about education as the eerie setting. one may make a chapel of bones but a student cannot touch a single femur.

“Don Juan” is, yes, an adaptation of the legend, with marionettes. when it started, I thought “oh, no…” but minutes into it I was hooked. Chilling, comic, grotesque and suspenseful all at the same time. The marionnettes and the theatrical setting suggest decay, a lost theatricality and an oppressive European past, but the sensibility is one of contemporary modernist irony. the puppets’ impassivity nevertheless suggests an uncanny expressiveness. DVD

For info on The Ossuary

2 thoughts on “Svankmajer”

  1. just put this on my netflix queue. i recently watched alice and i thought it amazing. it gave me exactly the same pleasure i’d always get when i was younger (till, say, my late twenties or possibly even later) and someone would read something to me. maybe kids like being read books because it feels so deeply pleasurable to be sitting over a text with someone else. i am not sure why i lost this easy pleasure. it might be because reading together is the bread and butter of teaching and after a while becomes routine. but alice gave me the pleasure back. one the ways i was aware of that the pleasure was produced was the deeply tactile nature of the film. svankmajer does this by zooming in on moving things and making their sound loud and crisp. every single little movement “sounds” a lot, and very distinctly. it’s as if your sense of hearing were magnified tenfold. even when things go less than well for alice, the pleasure of materiality stays with you. the scenes with the rabbit taking out his watch while sawdust comes out of him (the watch is inside him, and his insides are sawdust) are amazing. the sawdust, of course, clings a bit to the watch and he blows it out each single time. the same vivid sensual pleasure is aroused at all the scenes in which tarts are eaten. when characters bite into the tarts the sound is exquisite. alice’s dainty bites are perfect: this is not a film about greedy and easy interaction with the world of objects. it’s a film about carefully navigating one’s body in the material world, and maybe that’s its pleasure after all: one’s sudden awareness that one is, among other things, an object among objects, also making delicious little noises at every turn.

  2. I really enjoy Svankmajer’s Faust. I often show the film’s concluding scenes to my students after studying Marlowe’s play and the really enjoy it. I need to see others.

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