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Film review: Little Otik (2000)

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Don’t know who Jan Svankmajer is? Then you’re missing out. But, fear not — you’re about to discover this modern-day, Czech Brother Grimm

Last night (Sunday), was to be an early night. I brushed my teeth, got into my jarmies and went to turn off the tele. Then came on the late, late night movie. And it was from one of my favourite directors Svankmajer. And one I hadn’t seen — Otesánek, or Little Otik.

The movie is set in a poor tenement building in the Czech Republic. Karel and Bozena are husband and wife but both unfortunately incurably barren. One day, while doing some gardening, Karel unearths the roots of a tree, which are vaguely shaped like a baby. He cleans it up, varnishes it and presents it to his wife. Bozena, desperate for a child, calls the stump “Otik” and starts treating it like a baby. She dresses it, trims its ‘nails’ and puts a dummy in its ‘mouth’.

Otik comes to life. With a fierce appetite. As he eats he grows bigger and stronger. He evens tries to eat Bozena’s hair. Things take a malign turn when she returns from home to find Otik has eaten their cat. Then the postman.

The couple’s desperation for a child combined with Otiks ever-growing, voracious appetite spells grim disaster. Alzbetka, their neighbour’s daughter, is the only one in the building who knows what’s going on. Who’s going to believe her?

The movie uses stop-motion animation, Svankmajer’s hallmark. He directed this one with his wife, Eva Švankmajerová.

I first came across Svankmajer some years ago, with Alice — his dark, surreal, animated version of the C S Lewis story. His movies and shorts are both grotesque and beautiful, twisted and charming. Also, even though this movie was released in 2000, it still has that certain Eastern bloc style to it — the palette, costumes, set. and referencing of folklore Visually, it’s stunning even without the great stop-motion animation. It’s horror but the kind of horror that’s wierd.

Europeans have a real sensibility for darkness and light in their storytelling — whether it’s the Brothers Grimm, Pan’s Labyrinth or Jeunet et Caro.

Here’s a great example of the master at work. His short film “Food—Breakfast”. Please, do yourself a favour and watch it.

Trailer for Little Otik


Written by Darren Smith

2 February 2009 at 10:04 pm

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