Švankmajer: Conspirators of Pleasure


I was just checking the imdb boards for this movie but there isn’t much there. Shame, sometimes there are some really perceptive comments. I think this film is my fave Svank feature, yet it’s hard to know what to think it … this is what I wrote there:

What a fantastic movie! I just watched it again straight at the cinema in Brighton, where there is currently a Svankmajer retrospective.

[no subs, but you don’t really need them. you only need to know ‘v nedeli’ = ‘on sunday’]

It’s amazing, there isn’t any spoken dialogue of note and a whole world is created. Like all his movies I’ve seen, Svankmajer judges the length adroitly and says what he wants to say in such an individualistic style. Compared to some of his other films there isn’t much animation but he really makes it count when it is employed – for example the energetic contest played out between the ‘main character’ in the cock hat and his neighbour.

I think this was the third time I’ve seen it, the first time not smashed so I’m able now to formulate some theories (my friend sat next to me seeing it for the first time said at the end “what the feck i have just seen??”)

So judging by some of the meaningful glances between the conspirators, for example in the newsagent at the beginning (and the end), and in the bedroom of the murdered woman at the end, it seems they do recognise something in each other. But what exactly?

And who is in control? One might think the postlady, since she delivers the ‘sunday showdown’ note and the breadballs. But then she is also hooked on the breadballs herself. I’m also fine with there being no-one pulling the strings, everyone just stuck in their various pursuits of pleasure.


Yet even on that approach, questions remain. At the end, the various perversions seem to be rotating – the postlady is up for buying some fish, the ‘main guy’ is thinking about building electronics, the newsagent is working on a kinky rolling pin etc etc So are there only the perversions we have seen? Or are there more? Is this group representative or is everyone at it?

So what’s it all about then? Clearly it’s about obsession. The newsagent sells news but is completely unmoved by the news stories of floods and what looks like police repression of demonstrations. He cares only for the newscaster. And I guess we’ve all been in situations when the madness of love takes over – I know I have. It’s incredible that emotions or the brain releasing specific chemicals or an energetic connection or however you want to call it, can result the inability to function normally. It’s complete and utter madness!

I’m interested what other people think, not because there is any correct interpretation, it’s just fun to bounce these ideas around. Plus I hope those fish enjoyed their participation.


PS Any film which credits the following reprobates for their “Professional Expertise” has got to be a winner:

Count Leopold Sacher-Masoch

Marquis Donotien Aldonse François de Sade

Sigmund Freud

Luis Buñuel

Max Ernst

Bohuslav Brouk



4 thoughts on “Švankmajer: Conspirators of Pleasure

  1. Like you, I really liked this one. People had previously warned me off it, for some reason. But while I’d still say I prefer ‘Faust’ I think it’s the last of the classic era of Svankmajer’s films. After that they become a bit less surreal, a bit straighter, a bit more narrative-based. I’d previously associated that with the reduction in the amount of animation, but as you say there isn’t much here. It’s laugh-out-loud absurd, and at the same time quite unsettling. Only weakness I could think of is that it’s a bit long for what it is, it could do with five or ten minutes shaved off it.

    However, and interestingly, I was unlike you over the “meaningful glances”. I imagined everyone was kind of furtive and cloistered, wrapped up in their own perversions, scuttling through streets and staircases imagining everyone else was just part of straight society. The newsagent carefully covers up his cogs and gears whenever a customer comes in. And I didn’t think he was so much in love with the newsreader as obsessed with the face on the telly – which becomes one more weapon in the arsenal of contraptions he’s constructed.

    And he contrasts with the cop guy who actually gets to sleep with the actual flesh-and-blood newsreader, who shows no interest in her at all and would rather be in his shed making his own pervy devices. The only two characters who there’s any interaction between, it happens through proxy, through a variant of voodoo dollies. And they’re trying to rub one another out!

    The irony of their swapping perversions is that none of them know that’s what they’re doing. Each is just engaging in whatever equates to serial monogamy for fetishists. Their lives will pass forever in parallel streams.

    Of course one of that explains why the word ‘conspirators’ is in the title, who’s sending the telegrams or why anyone would want to snort bread rolls. But then I suppose the point of surrealist films is that they can’t be explained away.

    • Hola Gavin!

      Have you seen Surviving Life (2010)? That’s pretty good, although I’d agree with you that perhaps his earlier stuff is better. I saw Lunacy (2005) the other day, didn’t really like that, just put up the review in which i try unsuccessfully to work out why:

      Interesting on the glances – I agree there isn’t going to be any easy or correct or indeed coherent explanation “in truth” here and I also agree that they prob don’t know they are swapping perversions.

      But i do feel the looks between the newsagent and the cocky pornographer both at the beginning and the end would suggest that the newsagent is recognising another pervert, that’s why he smiles. And why the other guy freaks out and runs off without getting his change, because he doesn’t really want that connection.

      The postlady gives people weird looks but maybe that’s because she’s a postie. I’d have to see those bits again.

      I did find the look between the cop and the cocky pornographer EXTREMELY INTENSE and i do think there’s some recognition there but wow it’s multilevel stuff. I could go on hehehe

      • I thought the newsagent’s ‘looks’ were more the subjective reaction of the cocky pornographer (nice name!), the fear of being ‘outed’. The one with the cop is perhaps more interesting. Held for so long my first assumption was he was about to be arrested. Then when that doesn’t happen… maybe that is complicity on some level.

        My problem with ‘Lunacy’ was in some ways the opposite of yours. I thought it was about the pseudo-permissive do-as-you-please free market world which hit the East after the fall of the Soviets. And the club-wielding orderlies who escape the cells to ‘restore order’ mark the swing back to authoritarianism which has happened so widely across the East. There’s a kind of a ‘between stools’ thing about the film, it’s weird surface versus the simplicity of it’s metaphor, it’s neither a string of surreal events nor a straight narrative.

        I’m probably being too harsh and would like it more if I saw it in isolation. It’s just not as good as some of the others.

  2. Pingback: Insect revisited | i munch moovies

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