alibi online
Free Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 
 V.15 No.48 | November 30 - December 6, 2006 

Film Review

Lunacy

Anachronistic horror tale loots the corpses of two legends

“Yes, the table over there would like to buy you a side of mashed potatoes.”
“Yes, the table over there would like to buy you a side of mashed potatoes.”

Lunacy

Directed by Jan Svankmajer

Cast: Pavel Liska, Jan Triska, Anna Geislerová

At the beginning of Lunacy, Jan Svankmajer shows up to assure audiences that his latest effort is a horror film and “not a work of art.” Art, he informs us, is all but dead, anyway. The film at hand is nothing more than an “infantile tribute” to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade. Of course, I don’t buy it any more than Svankmajer does, but it’s an interesting way to get things started.

Make no mistake: The Czech filmmaker has created a horror film, pure in its intentions and effects and quite a bit more creative than the “torture chic” films sweeping Hollywood. But to say that the mad animator who gave us such gruesome fairy tales as Little Otik, Faust and Alice aspires to no art whatsoever is a bit of a lie--and not the last one you’ll be told in this film.

The film steals scraps here and there from both Poe and de Sade, but is really its own cracked take on the thematic legacy left behind by those infamous writers. Our story begins by introducing its hero, a troubled young man by the name of Jean Berlot (Pavel Liska). Since his mother’s incarceration (and eventual death) in an asylum for the insane, Berlot has been plagued by vivid nightmares of being hauled off in a straitjacket by grinning warders. One night, while staying at a roadside inn, his somnambulant tantrum catches the eye of a well-dressed Marquis (longtime Czech actor Jan Triska).

“I kiss your brain to make it all better.”
“I kiss your brain to make it all better.”

The next morning, the Marquis offers to give Berlot a ride to his mother’s funeral. The duo arrive, however, at an out-of-the-way castle, where Berlot witnesses several blasphemous rites presided over by the openly venal Marquis. (We’re assuming, at this point, that the unspoken name de Sade comes attached to his title.) Horrified, but egged on by some sort of righteous curiosity, Berlot engages in a heated theological debate with the Marquis. Whether the Marquis is intrigued by this troubled but righteous man or is merely toying with him is left purposely vague.

After a grisly and allegedly liberating episode involving a premature burial (that bit’s pure Poe), the Marquis suggests that Berlot confront his fears head-on. Since he’s friends with the man who runs the asylum where Berlot’s mother was locked up, the Marquis proposes setting Berlot up in the very same madhouse--on a purely voluntary basis, of course.

At the chaotic and totally creepy asylum, Berlot meets the oddly permissive Dr. Murllope (Jaroslav Dusek), who allows his inmates to run rampant. Here begins the tricky old game of “have the lunatics taken over the asylum?” After all, who’s crazy and who’s insane, and how can you tell the difference? (Here, Svankmajer borrows another page from Poe, this time “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.”) Naturally, Berlot is the pawn caught in the middle, trying to figure out if an innocent-looking nurse (Anna Geislerová) is telling the truth or if the unorthodox methods of the Marquis and Murllope are actually sound. Loyalties flip constantly, outrageous lies are mixed amid absolute truths, and audiences are left more paranoid than the main characters by story’s end.

The film, ostensibly set in the 18th century, freely mixes in anachronistic elements (a horse-drawn carriage, for example, ambles down a crowded modern freeway). This makes it easier to absorb the film’s more metaphorical elements. The allegedly artless script is more or less a fictionalized argument between the forces of total freedom and absolute control. It would be easy to apply this argument to today’s post-9/11 world, and it’s worth noting that neither side comes out particularly admirable in the debate.

Unlike Svankmajer’s previous films, stop-motion animation is rarely used to interact with the real actors. Mixed amid the live-action scenes are brief interstitial segments in which animated meat (tongues, brains, slabs of rotting beef) dance, cavort and otherwise move around the environment. There seems to be some commentary attached to these sequences, but it’s not exactly pointed. It is gross, however. Though they are short and rarely intrude on the story at hand, the animated bits do lend a rather stomach-churning element to the already unsettling proceedings.

But even amid the nihilistic tone and nasty imagery, Svankmajer maintains an almost playful sense of dread. This is, after all, a horror film whose primary image is one of dancing meat. Icky animation and ideological aspirations aside, Lunacy isn’t all that far removed from the campy Poe films Roger Corman was shooting back in the ’60s. Like the Marquis himself, Svankmajer is just toying with his captive audience--pushing our buttons, grossing us out and scaring us silly in hopes of triggering some small spark of enlightenment.

 

Tomorrow's Events

Indie Q at the KiMo at KiMo Theatre

Join in for a free screening of locally made films.

Dance Film: Cuban Fury at National Hispanic Cultural Center

Friday

Movies on the Mesa at Mesa Del Sol

More Recommented Events ››
Join our mailing list for exclusive info, the week's events and free stuff!
 

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • alibi.com
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Rocksquawk Discussions
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Del.icio.us Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.
    High Mountain Hideout
    High Mountain Hideout8.29.2014