(Lekce Faust) (1994)
In fact, the peculiar, hallucinatory world brought to life in Faust, in which human beings mingle with human sized marionettes, various kinds of puppets moved by means of stop motion animation, claymation monstrosities, and so on, is, at once, intoxicating, beautiful, and wonderfully affecting. While Svankmajer's film would be captivating to watch even if it were divorced from its content, the director's flawless use of puppets greatly increases the emotive impact of the narrative. The puppets remind the viewer of the artificiality of the events being depicted so that the liminality of Faust's universe is being constantly reinforced by their presence. Consequently, instead of focusing on the emotions of a particular man, the viewer is able to experience awe, fear, revulsion, and compassion with a real immediacy.
The director does not, however, rely exclusively upon these puppets to evoke a sense of the otherworldly. He also creates such an awareness by presenting many of the occurrences depicted in the film as though they were staged. As Faust's actions are frequently those of an actor or a puppet in a play, the viewer remains cognizant of the unreality of the events he is seeing on screen. Even such a thing as the sound of thunder is shown as being produced by a sheet of metal, again reminding the viewer that the actions presented in the film are not those of ordinary life but, rather, take place in some marginal realm. The effect the director so achieves is both fascinating and able to elicit from the moviegoer a variety of profound feelings.
The fervency of these emotions aroused by Faust is even further increased by the strongly ritualistic quality with which the events related in the movie are infused. Actions are repeated in set patterns and comply with particular rules made apparent in the movie. When, for example, Faust finds himself on stage, transformed into a puppet, he adheres to the expectations an audience has of a stage performance and acts the part he must necessarily play.
Such ritualized behaviors emphasize the diverse constraints governing the protagonist's existence. The director thus reminds the viewer that Faust is not a free agent, but is, in truth, hemmed in by various factors that determine his thoughts and actions. By taking such an approach, Svankmajer manifests a bizarre and frightening universe governed by terrible, awesome powers in which men are little more than inanimate playthings.
What is more, by participating in such a vision, even as an observer, the viewer steps away from ordinary, practical considerations and enters into a liminal, dreamlike realm not quite like that of his daily life, but not entirely different from it either. He is drawn into a world that is, in some sense, outside of time, in that emotions and truths are experienced apart from the entities they govern and enliven. He experiences fear or love, but he does so without particular objects from which he runs or towards which he is drawn. He may, consequently, feel horror at Faust's fate, but it is horror as such. If he felt terrified in the way he would in ordinary life, attached to practical considerations, the viewer would flee from the film's images or would act in some other similar way, but he does not do so. Even the horror he feels when witnessing the constraints on human existence, perhaps including his own, is so abstracted by the film's stylized presentation that this horror is experienced in a pure, immediate way, rather than as being directed towards, and thereby diluted by, those constraints. He is, as a result of such an approach, able to relish his experience of the movie as colored by such emotions with that intensity which is possible only when these are experienced directly.
Jan Svankmajer has created a marvelous work of art in Faust. The film is visually, narratively, and stylistically brilliant.
Review by Keith Allen
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