Jan Švankmajer

film 5 of 6

Picnic with Weismann

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 10, 2015

Svankmajer’s is a kind of Randy Newman ambiguity. Newman: do the beautiful settings soften the cynical sentiments, or do the cynical sentiments besmirch the beautiful settings? Svankmajer: the vivivication of the inanimate gives the objects something of agency, psychology, poignancy. The mechanization of the organic players, though it doesn’t exactly dehumanize them, makes their vulnerable partiality into an absolute reality. There may be hope and, in a trivial, bootless sense, psychology. But whatever Kafka-esque power—sorry, but he is Czech, and their art just keeps doing this—causes all this stuff gets them all in the end. Well, maybe not all of them; the inanimate objects seem to have not only a life, but a kind of sufficiency.

Svankmajer really does demonstrate the workings of surrealism. When you put sensible things in another sensible setting that’s not quite native to them, it causes a slightly unsettling, vertiginous feeling. Here’s another surreal characteristic. Cause and effect are dislocated, which is to say that, increasingly, you don’t quite know what he’s quite getting at. Maybe it’s a surrealist point: the point is to not make a point. The piling leaves is kind of heartbreaking. The guy who falls in the grave at the end!