Czech director Jan Svankmajer is renowned for his surreal films and fascinating stop-motion animations that some may find macabre. In his 2005 film, “Sílení” [Eng. Title: Lunacy], he opens the film in person and informs that we’re about to watch a horror film, which he likens to an infantile tribute to Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade. He also tells us that the film is an ideological debate about how to run a lunatic asylum; by exercising control and punishment the old fashioned way, or by encouraging absolute freedom. Or even by combining the excesses of the above two – pretty much like the madhouse called world that we live in today.
It is a satire of present-day society using allegory – the actual horror, if anything, is political and philosophical, as opposed to splattering of blood, and gore. Svankmajer uses animated inserts between live action to accentuate a topic, as he often does in his films, which in this case is protagonist Jean’s (Pavel Liska) fears and sense of helplessness. Whenever he feels anxiety, he has a recurring nightmare of two burly asylum staff arriving with a straitjacket to take him away, like they did to his mother, whose funeral he had originally arrived to attend at the lunatic asylum. While returning home, he’s offered a lift by a passing Marquis (Jan Tríska – he travels in a nineteenth century carriage while modern transport ply in the distance), who will also invite him to stay as a guest at his country manor.
That night Jean secretly observes a satanic ritual where the Marquis, his tongue-less servant, and two other men participate in a ritual orgy with three women in black, and a rather reluctant Charlotte (Anna Geislerová). Jean doesn’t like what he sees and wants to leave the following day, but is persuaded otherwise by the Marquis, and is also promised a specialised therapy at his friend Dr. Murlloppe’s (Jaroslav Dusek) clinic. Once there, Jean will learn, through the doctor’s ‘daughter’ Charlotte (both of whom were also at the orgy that Jean witnessed) that the real director of the clinic – Dr. Coulmiere (Martin Huba) and his staff are held prisoners in the basement by these imposters. She claims to be a prisoner herself, and asks for Jean’s help in rescuing them. Since Jean had already fallen in love with Charlotte by then, he agrees and rescues them, only to realise that the reinstated ones are perhaps as crazy as those who were running it before.
The film does get a bit heavy in symbolism halfway through, but I think Svankmajer is trying to establish his view that there is actually little difference between living within and outside the lunatic asylum – the system outside also works and treats people the same way. There is also plenty of absurd humour thrown in, and the animated slices of meat and tongues, while grotesque, is nevertheless very well done. Jan Tríska as the Marquis is brilliant and even manages to make us like his despicable character. For those looking for a different cinema experience, this obscure gem is Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Anna Geislerová, Renata Sátková, and others
Anna Geislerová, who plays Charlotte, appears nude in two scenes, and Renata Sátková turns into a large canvas for inmates at an ‘art therapy’ session. Other unidentified nudes also appear in the film, particularly during the ritual orgy scene.