Virtual Cinema | Celebrate Halloween with a Surrealistic “Faust” October 27, 2020
Next up in Virtual Cinema: Revisit the Faust legend as imagined by Surrealist Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer.
• The Film
The late Czech director Miloš Forman called Švankmajer’s Faust “a cross between Luis Buñuel and Walt Disney.” Indeed, this interpretation of the Goethe tale about a man who sells his soul to the devil is an eerie combination of dreamy subconscious fantasies and surrealistic images.
Borrowing from ancient folktales and timeless myths, this Faust follows a lonely Czech businessman who exchanges his soul for 24 years of self-indulgence. Petr Cepek perfectly plays a curious Everyman who stumbles into a strange puppet theater and finds himself embroiled in a production of the Faustian legend. Through a visually fantastic combination of live-action, claymation, stop-motion animation, and special effects, Švankmajer creates an unsettling universe presided over by diabolic life-size marionettes and haunted by sinister human messengers from hell. As the New Yorker exclaims, Faust “throws you off balance more thoroughly than any other movie in town.”
• The Filmmaker
After studying at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in the 1950s, Švankmajer worked as a theater director. He began making short films in 1964, and he finally achieved his long-held goal of a feature film based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with 1988’s Alice. He has also exhibited his drawings, collages, and “tactile sculptures,” many of which were produced in the mid-1970s, when he was temporarily banned from filmmaking by the Czech authorities. He has been a card-carrying member of the Prague Surrealist Group since 1969.
Švankmajer has said that a common theme in his work is the battle between fear and anxiety, and that his obsession for collecting certain objects stems not from their value, but “how they work on me.” He confesses that when “the collection has filled up, a film usually grows out of it.” Since retiring from filmmaking in 2018, Švankmajer has become the subject of the documentary Athanor: The Alchemical Furnace, which premiered at the 2020 International Film Festival Rotterdam.
Underwriting for the Film Department is provided by Tenaris and the Vaughn Foundation. Generous funding is provided by Nina and Michael Zilkha; The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea; Franci Neely; Carrin Patman and Jim Derrick; Lynn S. Wyatt; ILEX Foundation; L’Alliance Française de Houston; and The Foundation for Independent Media Arts.