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VIFF – SURVIVING LIFE (2010) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in Czech Republic, movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2010 by goregirl

I could not believe how empty the theatre was for Surviving Life, my third film of The Vancouver International Film Festival. Granted it was a Tuesday afternoon matinee, I’m sure it was a much fuller theatre for the Saturday evening showing. Jan Svankmajer is one of the most original film makers alive today who uses both animation and live action to create unique, surreal and often macabre images to compliment his imaginative stories. The Czech born director has been creating his masterpieces since the 60’s and has made a number of short films but very few feature length films, which makes Surviving Life an extra big deal. While I happened to think the man is brilliant, his unconventional style won’t be to everyone’s taste. However, if you’re open to the experience you might just dig the wonderfully weird world of Svankmajer as much as I do.

While awake the middle-aged Eugene lives a simple life with his wife of many years. But Eugene lives a double life when he closes his eyes. He becomes obsessed with a reoccurring dream of a beautiful young woman. He begins seeing a psychoanalyst, not in hopes of ending the dreams, but in fear that the lovely lady may disappear. The doctor helps to interpret his dreams as Eugene attempts living life in both worlds.

Remember collages from grade school art class? Cutting pictures out of magazines and gluing them to bristol board? If you can imagine a much slicker version then you have some idea of what Surviving Life looks like. The film uses photo cut-outs of the actors, which Svankmajer jokes during the films introduction, was due to a lack of funds and saved on catering. I’ve posted reviews for Jan Svankmajer’s Little Otik and Lunacy, which aren’t straight up horror by any means, but certainly have enough elements to sneak it by. Surviving Life has none of the macabre images of a lot of Svankmajer’s other work, but it certainly does not lack in the weird or surreal. People, animals and objects are often disproportionate in size to their environments. There are naked women with chicken heads, human heads on snakes, portraits of Jung and Freud kicking and punching each other, giant apples rolling out doors; all brought to life against black and white photographs of Czech buildings and an assortment of other backdrops. Occasionally the real world and the dream world collide making for some additional weirdness. Although the trip is certainly surreal and strange the narrative is quite coherent and in the end Eugene is simply unlocking what was buried deep in his subconscious. Within the world of dreams anything is possible and the same can be said for the medium of animation. In the world of animation you can be as wild and over the top as your heart desires and it compliments Svankmajer’s material perfectly. Surviving Life is a whimsical, weird and dazzling visual feast for the eyes.

Surviving Life has been called a psychoanalytical comedy. But, according to Svankmajer, it is not about psychoanalysis and it is a comedy that no one will laugh at. It may not be about psychoanalysis, but it is certainly a major theme through the film. Eugene’s psychoanalyst plays an important role in the film and Eugene visits her office often. She has portraits of Jung and Freud on her wall that becomes animated in approval or disapproval of her interpretations. She discovers that Eugene’s dream girl is his anima (his female side). The viewer understands the nature of Eugene’s dreams before he does, but regardless, the final revelation is still extremely satisfying. In fact, every aspect of Surviving Life is extremely satisfying.

Surviving Life is a cleverly written film about aging, love, sex, childhood trauma, psychoanalysis and dreams. Svankmajer’s imaginative presentation of one man’s psychosis is both thoughtful and humorous. Surviving Life is an extraordinary and immensely entertaining film. Bravo Mr. Svankmajer! Bravo! Highest of recommendations!

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Jan Svankmajer

Starring: Václav Helsus, Klára Issová, Zuzana Kronerová, Daniela Bakerova, Emília Doseková, Marcel Nemec, Jan Pocepický, Jana Olhová, Pavel Nový, Karel Brozek