The very qualities that make Jan Svankmajer‘s films so popular as projections on the walls of irritating parties â€” unhurried pacing, quiet surreality, subdued dark humor and that distinctive stop-motion animation â€” also make them as familiar and comfortable as a family room sofa. "Lunacy," his latest, purports to be a horror film inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and the Marquis de Sade, but is neither frightening nor particularly lurid. It’s merely reassuringly Svankmajeresque.
Pavel Liska plays the hapless Jean, whose fears of inherited insanity manifest in violent dreams of approaching straitjacket-bearing orderlies that have the effect of making him appear, of course, insane. On the way home from his mother’s funeral, Jean encounters a mysterious Marquis (Jan Triska) who offers him a ride (in one of the best throwaway moments of this ostensibly period film, Jean gazes disconsolately out of the window of the jiggling horse-drawn carriage as it crosses a Czech freeway) and a place to stay the night, and then proceeds to make him the victim of an elaborately staged prank. To make it up to Jean afterward, the Marquis suggests a way for him to overcome his phobias: by checking in (voluntarily, of course) to a remarkably permissive asylum conveniently run by a friend of his. Additional oddities ensue. Svankmajer’s "the lunatics are running the asylum, and perhaps everyone’s a lunatic" allegories are laid on a little thick, but tolerably so. "Lunacy"’s most memorable images are the sequences of animated cuts of meat and offal frolicking around various locations, like the director’s 1989 one-minute short "Meat Love" (which you can watch on YouTube here) on speed, set to the tunes of a broken music box. The scenes punctuate the film at regular intervals and seem to have no bearing on the main narrative other than to be both grim and grimly funny, which is what we all came for, isn’t it?
Opens in New York today.
+ "Lunacy" (Zeitgeist Films)