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lupercal's Review of Faust

rated it: posted: Jul 29, 2006
Reviews: 517 | KF Animation Editor
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About the only more challenging thing than watching this film is reviewing it.

After a six year gap since 'Alice', Svankmejer returns for his second feature film. Although there are obvious similarities in terms of technique, this is an altogether darker, more disturbing and in many ways more original and even funnier film than 'Alice'. I have read Marlowe's 'Faust' but not Goethe's, so I'm not sure where some of the dialog is coming from, but nevermind.

The basic plot can be summarised fairly easily. Faust is a human who sells his soul to The Devil in exchange for superhuman powers (granted by Lucifer's minion Mephistophles), and in the end it naturally catches up with him.

But this really tells you little about the film itself.

Someone described Svankmejer as the last great obsessive director, and after this, I can almost agree. Things crop up in his films with bewildering regularity.

For example, the chicken. In 'The Flat' a man walks into the flat in slow motion, stroking a chicken, presents the protagonist with an axe, then wanders off again, still petting the chicken. I seem to remember there was a chicken in 'Down to the Cellar', too. In 'Alice', a carriage is drawn by chickens instead of horses, In 'Conspirators of Pleasure' a man dresses up as a chicken before an act of sexual homicide. In 'Faust', the protagonist arrives home to find a black chicken loose in his flat. He chases it out, but then discovers that it has somehow laid an egg in the middle of a loaf of bread (this scene could have been straight out of the 'The Flat'). When he breaks it open a violent thunderstorm ensues and the furniture in his apartment hurls itself about. He looks out the window to see two men with opaque eyes stroking the chicken. When he stops looking, it turns out the eyes were just corneal lenses, which they put in their pockets. What in hell (no pun intended) does this mean? I have no idea.

Faust is lured to an old building after being presented with numerous streetmaps. What he finds seems to be a dillapidated theatre crossed with a puppeteer's workshop, an alchemist's laboratory, and other functions still.

At times he appears on stage in constume, before an audience, only to wander off into some complete wilderness. Various 7 foot tall puppets hinder, taunt or advise him. A claymation foetus grows into a baby in a testube. Mephistophles himself warps between shapeles clay, demonic visage, and a disturbing imitation of Faust's face. Things get terribly confusing with the inter-melding of live play, and the film itself, which is of course based on a play.

As with most Svankmejer films two other characteristics are omnipreent. One is that the characters react to insane situations quite blithely; almost as if they were normal. Why on earth would a perfectly ordinary, middle-aged man follow a map to a dilapidated theatre and summon up Lucifer, scarcely raising an eyebrow in the process? Why would nobody think it unusual that a hobo is carrying about a severed human leg?

Another typical trope is that of claustrophobia. Typically in Svankmejer films doorknobs fall of or fail to open, keys (which often don't work) are required, or the protagonist is faced with some room they can't escape from. In 'Faust', the title character is trapped more metaphysically in his deal with The Devil, though enclosed spaces are used to frequent effect, juxstaposed with occaisional escapades onto the streets of Prague, or open wilderness, which seemy scarcely less oppresive.

And, as usual, there are the close-ups. Svankmejer has the ability fo show close up shots of utterly mundane objects, and somehow imbue them with a sense of sinister expectancy. I can't think of anyone else who can show close-ups of a loaf of bread, a cake or a piece of wood, and make somehow fill them with s ense of dread (and occaisionally comedy, at the same time)

And avout that comedy. The most obvious example to me in 'Faust' is the almost Keystone-Cops-ish, completely ordinary fireman in the theatre who is called upon to put out all sorts of fires, including Lucifer belligerantly setting fire to people (well, puppets). Another comic moment involves a group of men trying to guzzle the wine which is erupting from the hole in the middle of a restauraunt table.

'Faust' is a film which demands repeated viewings. My opinion is that it is superior to 'Alice', though it doesn't have quite as much stop motion (on the other hand it probably has more claymation, and certainly more puppetry).

It's almost imposible to recommend or dismiss this movie. Nobody else makes films like this. If that line interests you , watch it.

animated movie Faust © BBC / Lumen Films / Heart of Europe (cz) / Athenor Production / Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) / Kominsk / Pandora Cinema
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