Written by El Mono Santo
Take some classic Svankmajer, throw in Little Shop of Horrors, add a touch of Pinocchio, and the result is a dark, quirky comedy in which secret, inner monsters are made incarnate.
Jan Svankmajer, the famous Czech cinema surrealist, is perhaps best known for shorts like Darkness-Light-Darkness or his feature length Alice (Neco z Alenky). Like all his films (and characteristic of surrealism itself) Svankmajer focuses on self-consuming human desire. This takes many forms, from consumption of food to sexual lust. The single most obsessive desideratum in Little Otik, however, is procreation. A barren woman’s unquenchable, animal desire for progeny animates an uprooted tree stump. Unable to reveal the irrational nature and terrifying appetite of her offspring, and surrounded by a community that can’t help but stick its nose into other people’s business, the couple engages in a humorous series of attempts to maintain a normal life.
Svankmajer may use less of his signature stop-motion animation, repetitive activity, and earthy, visceral sound production than usual, and come much closer to traditional narrative than previous films, but don’t think you won’t get a healthy dose of surrealism. One of my favorite moments was when an old man lusts after a small girl. The girl’s eyes widen with fright as she watches his pants unzip of their own accord and a human arm reach out from the area of his genitals to grope her. Other memorable moments were several inconspicuous homages to Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou sprinkled throughout the film (though I’ll let you investigate those for yourself).
Besides run-time and an anti-climactic ending, my biggest gripe with the film was its sexist leanings. It seemed to portray at least a subset of women as so entirely needful of childbearing that they are unable to function or live a happy life without it. It is easy to laugh at the absurd longings of the wife, including its influence on her weak husband, if one thinks of the film as doing little more than overdoing a stereotype. But like most surrealism, it has a point. And also like most surrealism, that point can be easily missed. Sometimes it's just a lot of fun to miss it.