Jan Švankmajer

film 2 of 6

Punch and Judy

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 10, 2015

Ah—here he is. We’re still on a stage, separated and presentational, but the last film’s 90º gives way to this one’s complete mobility. The selection and arrangement of props is superficially Eames-like: all these amazing toys and contraptions, handmade and textured and very beautiful. However, the use of and attitude toward these things is not at all Eames-like. We see the hands that work and arrange these objects, but they are disembodied, and the objects also have a life of their own. (Cf. Jiri Trnka.)

At the start we have monkeys, giving way to working jointed figures, and finally flat illustrations. What do these mean? At the very least there’s a Museum-of-Childhood interest, and appreciation. That can’t be all, though. It this Czechoslovakian, not readable to the distant North American? Or are these emblems of a strategically obscured political discourse? It could just be a personal, fairly impenetrable set of symbols. Anyway, when we finally get to the stage and the presentation of the main narrative, everything becomes quite clear.

This is Norman McLaren’s Neighbors, just as artful, just as simple (simplistic?). Hamster! This is weird, unsettling live-with-mechanical stuff. Both registers convince, interestingly enough. The viewer buys the disturbing, even perverse interaction. As with McLaren, our main characters co-care for this representative of the natural order, and then they disagree, and then they out and out separate. Comic battering escalates into appalling havoc (nails in the face!) As this proceeds to annihilation we get more lightning, Abel Gance-like cutting, lots of micro-movement and extremely precise, narrow depth of field photography. By the end, even the stage is destroyed. Let slip the dogs of war…