Švankmajer: Faust

It’s cool that we are resolutely doing the whole damn retrospective since now certain tropes are beginning to emerge. I’ll be able to say more at the end of it all in December hopefully (now we are about halfway through it all), although I can’t say I’m 100% confident that I will have the Svank ordered and categorised into neat little boxes by then. As an initial comment, I could affirm that certainly desks feature a lot, as does the breaking of glass and indeed destruction more generally; Hand drills pop up and the use of them to make holes in things happens regularly; Another trope repeated in today’s showing, having also been seen in Alice, was the exit through the back of the stage set – this time the protagonist ends up in a dark tunnel. Luckily for him, he is carrying a torch.

Švankmajer’s version of Faust is truly odd, very dream-like and conveys the feeling of the legend in his own unique way. It starts off fairly normal but quickly veers off into weirdness, what a surprise, huh? In fact, lots of the beginning gets referenced later on (eg Faust himself becomes the person who runs into him when he is trying to find the place marked on the mysterious map) so nothing gets wasted.

I like the way Svank’s features seem to come to a close when I’m ready for them to: they don’t drag on and they don’t go too fast. They are just right. There is a good economy there. Likewise with his animation – he does just enough to make whatever it is being animated (a puppet, a skull, an apple) seem alive, in order to allow us to willingly suspend our disbelief. But no more or less.

[sorry no subs]

The actor playing Faust is great, he puzzles blankly and frowns his way through, but Prague is the real star for me – the decay, the big doors of the apartment blocks, the metallic postboxes, the workmen in their overalls in the bar, the beer bubbling away in pint glasses and bottles. You can almost smell the street – I think the quality of the sound engineering must be helping with that, if I’m not being too synaethestic. Some favourite places popped up too, like the Vyšehrad railway bridge (where the weirdo throws the foot into the Vltava).


There are some very strange sequences here which I suppose would aid the application of the label surrealist to the Svank: ballet dancers running through a ploughed field; the jester hilariously fucking with the devil; the weirdo who robs legs from dead men; the bird which pops up to turn Faust’s torch on and off. In his Decalogue, the Svank declares:

Never work, always improvise. The script is important for the producer but not for you. It’s a non-binding document which you turn to only in moments when inspiration fails you. If it happens to you more than three times during the shooting of a film then it means: either you are making a „bad“ film or you’re finished. 

So I guess all these touches get thrown into the mix because it seems right. And somehow it all falls together very nicely. Another winner!! This is the good patch actually, with Dimensions of Dialogue and other shorts tomorrow, then Conspirators of Pleasure on Monday… Woohoo!



PS I forgot to mention how much I love the way the devils speak. They don’t say anything, they just go ‘Bleurgh Ble-ble-bleurgh’ and bounce up and down. It’s hilarious!


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