Otesánek (Greedy Guts)

Classic Movie Review: A surreal fairy tale tackling parenthood, Jan Švankmajer's most conventional film might also be his most subversive

Written and Directed by Jan Švankmajer

Starring: Jan Hartl, Veronika Žilková, Kristina Adamcová

Surrealist avatar Jan Švankmajer melds his tastes for fairy tales and black humor into this riotous update of a Czech folk legend about an insatiable tree. In a misguided attempt to dispel his wife's depression over their infertility, nebbish-y Karel (Jan Hartl) brings home a vaguely baby-shaped tree trunk he carved at the chata. To his disgust, Božena (Veronika Žilková) treats it like the real thing, even telling neighbors they're expecting; to his horror, her obsessive attentions actually bring "little Otík" to mewling, ravenous life. While Otík grows alarmingly on a diet which progresses from slabs of boiled meat to unlucky civil servants, the precocious girl next door (pudgy non-actor Kristina Adamcová, winningly un-winsome) starts to get suspicious.

Otesánek is Švankmajer's most conventionally structured and accessible film, side-stepping his usual fractured, dream-logic approach to narrative, but it may be his most subversive, taking gleefully gruesome aim at the unquestioned, unquestioning urge to procreate and tweaking the anything-for-a-child/everything-for-the-child assumptions underpinning modern family life. The third-act plot turn is delicious, the cast plays it beautifully straight and Švankmajer's hallmark animation brings the twiggy anti-hero to rollicking stop-motion life. His take on human nature is as dark as ever, but seldom has he dispensed it with such a wickedly playful touch.

Year: 2000

Runtime: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Video on YouTube

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