Genre: Experimental Animation Horror Fantasy (Czech Republic, France, UK)
Starring: Petr Cepek, Jan Kraus
Directed By: Jan Svankmajer (Alice; Little Otik)
Overview: When a man's curiosity is piqued by a strange map, he follows it to discover an old theater. He decides to play along, immersing himself into Marlowe and Goethe's classic character Faust, a wise man who sells his soul to the devil.
Acting: The name Petr Cepek may not ring any bells to any of you out there, but he's famous enough to those living in the Czech Republic, with a healthy filmography under his belt. His role here as a suicidally curious, confused yet understanding everyman is terrific. The direction keeps the supporting cast in a zone of strangeness and you may find as I did that the life-sized marionettes, especially the foolish assistant, have become your favorite characters.
Cinematography: The images are not as haunting as Svankmajer's Wonderland tale, Alice, but it is a story featuring demons and isolation, using an old theater as backdrop. We explore mostly the treacherous guts of a long-forgotten playhouse, but the occasional vast greenspaces and unkempt city settings as well. What truly makes this unique is Svankmajer's use of stop-motion and rustic marionettes. The stunning visuals and craftsmanship are truly the first reasons to see this.
Script: Avant-Garde tends not to stray from silence, focusing on images rather than tale. The same is conveyed here, however those lines that ARE spoken are strictly those of the Faustian play, so you can rest assured that the tale is going to be well explained, but also told in a flourish of prose that is both dark and funny, certainly something for the fan of the poetic.
Plot: I've read Marlowe's Faust, and having seen this film once before, I found that the mystery of this story is better told knowing the original tale. I explained the Faustian tale to my super-awesome girlfriend before we watched this outrageously loosely interpreted version. I was pleased that mid-way through the film, we were immersed in the story rather than the wonderfully strange Avant-Garde aspect of our everyman's journey. Those of you who may venture into this tale without knowing the original will be pleased at the thorough explanation. In essence, it's a play within a play, and the experiment is a success.
Mood: Themes remain consistent from early on including a heavy dose of 'curiosity killed the cat' to the point that we wonder if our everyman will even make it out alive, assisted by a twinge of paranoia as a couple of men seem to be following him around. Age and yesteryear mesh with the modern day as the original old tale of Faust is told with the use of run-down props. 'Dusty' is certainly a term you could use to help describe this haunting tale.
Overall Rating: 86% (Devilishly Good!)
Aftertaste: Through our mutual love of Art-House film, the girlfriend's brother and I hit it off right away, and he graced me the honour of letting me borrow this from his vast new collection. In fact he was a little surprised as he didn't even remember buying it, not even aware of who Svankmajer was. Remember when you discovered something or someone for the first time completely by accident? There's something to be said about those good old days. I'm sure he'll find it a nice surprise when he gets around to watching it too.