Little Otik

on December 19, 2001 by Tim Cogshell
   Czech surrealist director Jan Svankmajer's work is distinguished by its disturbing brilliance. Like the Brothers Grimm, his take on the fairytale genre is decidedly dark. His adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" is enough to give one nightmares. Most of his work involves elaborate stop-motion animation techniques and claymation, such "Alice" and "Faust," but of late he's begun to add longer and longer live-action sequences to his films, as in his "Conspirators of Pleasure." "Little Otik" is the longest of his feature films, and has the least animation--though what is there is still plenty creepy.

   The story is about a housewife named Bozena (Veronika Zilkova) who desperately wants but is unable to have a child. Her husband, Karel (Jan Hartl), cuts down a tree, and upon uprooting the stump finds that it looks much like an infant. He gives it to Bozena, who names it Otik and takes to treating it like real baby, which is exactly what it starts to act like--a real, hungry, freaky, people-eating baby tree stump. To make things even scarier, the little girl next door become enchanted by Little Otik, and soon realizes that the creature is from a book of her favorite fairytales.

   Like all Svankmajer films, "Little Otik," in both style and genre, is an acquired taste that fans will likely enjoy; however, its narrative is light and animated sequences terse, neither even beginning to support the film's more than two-hour running time, thus making it a challenge for even the anointed. Starring Veronika Zilkova, Jan Hartl, Jaroslava Kretschmerova, Pavel Novy, Kristina Adamcova, Dagmar Stribrna, Zdenek Kozak, Gustav Vondracek, Arnost Goldflam and Jitka Smutna. Directed and written by Jan Svankmajer. Produced by Keith Griffiths, Jaromir Kallista and Jan Svankmajer. A Zeitgeist release. Darkest-black comedy. Czech-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 125 min

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