Surrealism is alive and well in Czech animator Jan Svankmajer's aptly titled live-action weird-fest "Lunacy," in which the lunatics are most definitely running the asylum. This is one of those deliriously unhinged movies that looks, feels and sounds genuinely insane, for all the right artistic reasons.
Best known for his partially animated oddities like "Alice" and "Faust," Svankmajer calls "Lunacy" a "philosophical horror film." He informs us (in an introductory prologue) that "our film may be regarded as an infantile tribute to Edgar Allan Poe ... and to the Marquis de Sade, to whom the film owes its blasphemy and subversiveness."
Two of Poe's stories ("The Premature Burial" and "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether") provide the jumping-off point for Svankmajer's "ideological debate about how to run a lunatic asylum."
Our envoy into this craziness is hardly sane himself, or so it seems. In a 19th-century France rife with anachronisms (like a modern freeway, or a computer keyboard amidst vintage props and implements), Jean Berlot (Pavel Liska) is returning from his mother's funeral when he's taken in by The Marquis (Jan Triska). He's a braying aristocrat whose "hospitality" ultimately leads them to a nearby asylum, where the patients run free and the staff has been tarred, feathered and locked in a cell.
While Svankmajer rambles through this escalating and frequently ribald madness, "Lunacy" is punctuated by stop-motion vignettes involving animated pigs' feet, slithering cow tongues, slippery brains and a variety of raw meats, all cavorting in a metaphorical comment on the butchery of human existence.
Does it all add up to something truly provocative? I'm not so sure. But "Lunacy" is quite an experience, and it's a perfect companion to William Peter Blatty's 1980 cult favorite "The Ninth Configuration," another unique film that crosses the boundaries of sanity.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org