Jan Svankmajer introduces his film Sileni (Lunacy, 2005) as of no merit, though in homage to Edgar Allan Poe's themes & de Sade's blasphemies, an instructional on how to run a madhouse.
In counterpoint to Meat Love (Zmilovane Maso, 1989) with the meat's sensual desire to be cooked & eaten, the feature length Sileni includes sequences with quite a different but related story.
A mostly live-action comedy of insanity, with lots of stop motion animation worked into the tale, we watch meat fleeing for its very life, like slugs & inchworms on the go. Between live-action sequences, we are periodically treated to meat adventures involving tongues, eyeballs, porter house steaks, worked haphazardly into the flow of a larger narrative.
Scientists or doctors or just crazy guys in an asylum or in a big house do unspeakable things to one another. At one point the meat gets into the beer for a gay old time.
Jean (Pavel Liska), alone in his room, sees his shirt come to life. The shirt lets cruel guards into the room to torment him. But in reality he's not fully conscious & is hallucinating. He needs to be forcibly awakened to stop him from destroying the room at an inn.
Jean's mother recently died in a madhouse & it is suspected he takes after his mother. He's travelling across a surreal landscape, when the Marquis (Jan Triska) forces him out of the coach in the middle of nowhere during a deluge.
He finds his way to a place where the Marquis orchestrates sinister events. A kidnapped thumb-sucking young woman (Anna Geislerova) is brought to the Marquis' pornological society for purposes of sex, sadism, & religious heresies, satanic in nature. The next day, the Marquis chokes to death on a banana, & is burned in accordance with his long prepared instructions.
Terrified Jean is forced at gunpoint to participate in an absurd funeral right with tongueless Dominic (Pavel Novy). Come dawn, the Marquis is renimated. It all turns out to have been an elaborate game with Jean as naive audience.
He suffers nightmares of being carted off to the madhouse as happened to his mother, so the Marquis takes him to the alchemist Dr. Murlloppe (Jaroslav Dusek) seeking assistance.
The weird doctor's office, alas, is in a madhouse. Jean allows himself to be placed in the sanitorium, for he believes he can rescue Charlotte, the thumsucking captive, while the Marquis plans a theatrical event with the inmates as his personal marionettes, similar to Marat Sade (1967).
Soon Jean realizes he cannot tell with any certainty who are the psychopaths, who the staff, but his faith in Charlotte, whom he loves, is firm, until he learns all too sorrowfully how misplaced his trust has been.
Svankmajer has done such great work over the years it's kind of surprising he still wants to "backtrack" to simpler sillier things from his early animation, like the meat sequences. Nevertheless, Sileni is so bizarre in total, with the live action ingredient so aesthetic & surreal, as to induce a charmed a delight for the grotesque.
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, Prague's Alchemist of Film (1984), from the brothers Quay, alludes to the elaborate system of drawers seen in the opening image. This cabinets seemingly symbolizes the series of connected vignettes, like events kept in separate drawers of the cabinet.
There are a great many title cards throughout the quarter-hour film, serving almost as chapter headings, though some chapters would be only a few seconds long, & which have the same effect as labels on drawers.
In "Prelude: Portrait of Svankmajer" we observe a totally bizarre yet in its own way very beautiful puppet with the riffled pages of a book for hair, one of the most delightful stop-motion puppets ever conceived.
From that short prelude onward, the stop-motion animation is done consciously in the mode of Svankmajer. One segment, "An Unexpected Visitor." uses some of the same medieval painting images used by Svankmajer.
The book-head puppet unpacks his art supplies from a grocery bag.
A child doll seen also in other Brother Quay films, called the Wunderkammer (Wonder Child), arrives & removes matter from inside its head for the book-head alchemist to incorporate in his magic.
This to large extent symbolizes Svankmajer as instructor & Wonder Child as the collective persona of young animators (like the brothers Quay) who have been so inspired by him.
"Pursuit of the Object" finds Book-head in the room of cabinets looking in various drawers at blocks, bones, & what-not. In the chapter "The Wunderkammer" we are shown the empty-headed child with light shining within him.
The cabinetry gets odder & odder as Book-head Svankmajer & the Wonder Child investigate further intricacies, sometimes interpretted. Marvelous film!
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