Šilení (Lunacy)

Movie Review: Švankmajer's latest, a look into lunacy...

Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer
Starring Jan Tříska, Pavel Liška, Anna Geislerová


Unsubtle, at times unpleasant but possessed of the courage of its very disquieting convictions, Šilení shuffles Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade into surrealist master Jan Švankmajer’s deck of dark and troubling things to unsettling and often mesmerizing effect. Jean (Pavel Liška), a melancholy naif with a morbid fear of asylums, stumbles into the clutches of an aristocratic libertine (a splendid Jan Tříska), whose black masses and blasphemous musings repulse and fascinate him. The marquis introduces Jean to a nutty psychiatrist (Jaroslav Dušek) who claims he can cure the young man’s phobia at his sanitarium; Jean agrees to commit himself to be near a pretty nurse (Aňa Geislerová) who is either a damsel in distress or a psychotic nympho. And then things get weird.

Švankmajer, whose alchemical mix of live action and animation has influenced filmic fantasists from Tim Burton to the Brothers Quay, stuffs Šilení with period anachronisms, ravishing tableaux, startling grotesquerie, black humor, blacker ideas, bravura set pieces and slithering, stop-motion slabs of meat that provide ironic counterpoint (and a shuddering punch line) to a human carousel that takes a very chilling turn indeed. As a surrealist, Švankmajer dreams of surrendering all power to the imagination; as a fatalist, he knows you can get fucked that way too.

A version of this review originally appeared in Willamette Week of Portland, Oregon

Year: 2005

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