Little Otik

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 01/25/02 07:10:44

"Predatory pedophilia is creepy"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Jan Svankmeijer, the Czech master of stop motion surrealism changes gears and brings on a film that is more surreal than animated. At least, the focus isn’t on the animation but more on the story. Mrs. Horak (Veronika Zilkova) desperately wants a child. Mr.Horak (Jan Hartl) finds a child like stump in the garden one day and Mrs.Horak begins to see it as her baby boy. She goes through an elaborate process to fake a pregnancy and finally gives “birth”. But her delusion soon becomes a nightmare when the tree stump becomes a mythical Otasanek; a child that eats everything and is never satisfied.

In an opening scene when an old woman orders a baby from a baby monger on the street, we can’t be sure if Mrs. Horak is just seeing the baby pulled out of the tank and wrapped in newspaper or if that is what is really happening. There isn’t a clear line between what the characters are “seeing” and what is really “happening”.

While the myth of Otasanek would be interesting to pursue on its own because it puts a mother in a position where she must kill her own child to protect herself from it, the film isn’t a retelling of this old story but a reflection of it.

Like Svankmeijer’s Faust, the story is woven into the life of an everyman-like figure. In Faust, one man’s life becomes the story of Dr.Faustus and in Little Otik, the Horaks' life becomes the story of Otasanek.

The film is consistent with Svankmeijers style of intimate, claustrophobic and somewhat irregular shots. The rythym of the film is chaotic but this chaos embedded in the film itself is another way Svankmeijer conveys the unpredicatibility in the lives of his protags. After fifteen or twenty minutes, you become accustomed to the way he throws your focus around but the effect initially is something like motion sickness.

As we learn about the myth through a neighbor girl, Alzbetka (Kristina Adamcova), we also meet the prinicipal characters in the myth and in their counterparts in the real world of the film. Albetka finds the story in one of her picture books and keeps it a secret because she wants to protect little Otasanek, her new and only friend.

There are shades of Little Shop of Horrors when Otasanek just can't get enough to eat and Alzbetka finds an easy way to dispose of the old man who can't stop staring at her crotch.

In 1972, Svankmeijer was a test subject in an LSD study conducted by doctors in a military hospital in Prague. This experience was one of sheer terror for Svankmeijer but he says it “has not been on influence on my art”. The irregularity, the distorted sense of time and place, the radically shifting focus and the mythic sensibility are all common experiences under the influence of LSD. He weaves these elements into his films to created delusions rather than fantasies and the animated sequences are usually just plain weird.

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