For sheer perversity, Jan Svankmajer's CONSPIRATORS OF PLEASURE is a tough act to follow. But the renowned animator did it with this wickedly funny, deeply disturbing, live-action retelling of an old Czech folktale. Bozena Horakova (Veronika Zilková) is depressed. She and her husband Karel Horak (Jan Hartl) have been desperately trying to have a baby, but...read more
For sheer perversity, Jan Svankmajer's CONSPIRATORS OF PLEASURE is a tough act to follow. But the renowned animator did it with this wickedly funny, deeply disturbing, live-action retelling of an old Czech folktale. Bozena Horakova (Veronika Zilková) is depressed. She and her husband Karel Horak (Jan Hartl) have been desperately trying to have a baby, but to no avail. One weekend at their country house, Karel tries to cheer up his wife with a little joke: He takes the knotty stump of a dead tree he's uprooted from their garden, trims its roots to form arms and legs, slaps on a coat of varnish and offers it to Bozena. Bozena is ecstatic. Believing it to be a real baby, she plunges little "Otik" into a bassinet, powders his bottom and dresses him in booties and a bonnet. She then stages an elaborate fake pregnancy to explain Otik's sudden appearance to the neighbors back home. But when the happy day finally arrives, Karel is horrified to find the baby actually suckling at his wife's breast. Like Pinocchio, the stump has somehow come to life, and it's hungry. Worse, its hunger seems impossible to appease: The more Otik is fed, the larger he grows, and when the food doesn't come fast enough, Otik fillets the family cat. When the postman goes missing, the Horaks realize they have a serious problem on their hands. None of this escapes the watchful eye of Alzbetka (Kristina Adamcova), the discomfitingly mature little-girl-next-door who's not only up on sexual dysfunction but on K.J. Erben's folktale, "Otesanek," in which a tree stump adopted by a poor, childless couple grows to monstrous size by eating everything — and everybody — in sight. It's hard to isolate exactly what makes Svankmajer's deliciously bizarre nightmare comedy so horrifying. The film simultaneously touches on so many fears: from male discomfort over where babies come from (Karel has surreal visions of floating newborns being found in watermelons and scooped out of a baby monger's tank like carp) to anxieties about unnatural creation and the terror of an all-consuming baby that literally feeds off its mother. Perhaps it's simply the realization that we're all slaves to our desires: Like the obsessed fetishists of CONSPIRATORS, Svankmajer's characters are consumed by their own appetites, rapacious cravings for sex, alcohol and, most revoltingly, food. Gooey porridges and slimy stews are slurped with such revolting abandon that Otik's voracious flesh eating pales in comparison.
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