(2000) dir. Jan Svankmajer
Little Otik, Jan Svankmajer’s latest semi-animated Surrealist film, tells the story of a childless couple who create a child and its resultant monstrosity by roughly hewing a figure of a baby from a scraggy tree stump. The child’s hunger overgrows all else, turning their “baby” into an insatiable beast who ends up devouring their postman and many of their neighbors.
Svankmajer focuses a great deal on food and the process of eating throughout the film, lingering the camera on family mealtimes and particularly on the less apetizing aspects of the act. The central metaphor of the barbarous creature that their “child” becomes seems perfectly explicit. Though what is the significance of Otik’s origin? He comes from nature but is made utterly unnatural by the action of his human “parents.”
Svankmajer, for those of you unfamiliar with the director, is an animator who relies largely on pixilation, using three dimensional figures, sometimes puppets and sometimes “natural” objects. The effect of this is that the object often has natural photographic depth and lighting, yet moves with a clearly other-worldliness. In Little Otik and in the last film that I had seen of his, Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), the bulk of the film is simple photographic narrative, with small portions comparatively small sections of animation.
The film is based on a Czech fairy tale . I don’t know how well-known the original fairy tale is (I was not familiar with it myself), but it does seem to follow many traditions of fairy tales. The more traditional version of the fairy tale is told in parallel with that on the the main, photographic narrative. It is animated in a stylized 2-D technique as it is read by Alzbetka, the precocious ten year old heroine of the film.
His 1988 version of Alice in Wonderland is hands-down his best work (Alice) and his Faust (1994) is particularly interesting as well. Little Otik is a good film, but not as strong as his best.