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FAUST (LEKCE FAUST)(director/writer: Jan Svankmajer; screenwriters: from the play by Johann Wolfgang Goethe/from the novel by Christian Dietrich Grabbe; cinematographer: Svatopluk Maly; editor: Marie Zemanova; music: Johann Sebastian Bach/Charles Gounod; cast: Petr Cepek (Faust), Andrew Sachs (English voices); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jaromir Kallista; Kino International; 1994-Czech/Fr-in English)
“This unique film can be appreciated for how beautiful it all is.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This strange presentment of the Faust legend, updated to be set in modern Prague, was the second feature film from Czech underground animator Jan Svankmajer (“Alice”, 1988). Avant-garde animator Jan Svankmajer uses Claymation, puppet theater, stop-motion animation, special effects and live action to give the film a surrealistic look.

The film opens as ‘everyman’ Prague businessman (Petr Cepek) is on his way home, and as he exits the crowded subway he is handed a strange map. Though he discards it, the map later mysteriously appears in his mail. Eventually, he decides to follow the map, and finds himself led through dark alleyways and into a mysterious theater.

Cepek finds a spot on the map marked ‘X’ where there’s a courtyard and what appears to be a deserted theater dressing room, along with a costume, makeup and a copy of Goethe’s “Faust.” Cepek puts on the costume and makeup, reads aloud from the book and soon becomes Faust himself, and is into his part as he deals with the Devil. The summoned Devil takes on Faust’s appearance, and thereby he seems to be arguing with himself. The familiar story relives the pact Faust made with the Devil – of his soul in exchange for worldly power – and the story moves from its usual staged way to a more theatrical presentation with the introduction of life-size puppets to act out the drama.

Themes pile up like tackles in a football game, in this most visually imaginative but intellectually dry film–where it’s Faust who seeks out the Devil and not the other way around as it is usually told. With that, a new moral theme to the story must be raised. But these intellectual victories are overridden by how artificially flat and not compassionate and cold it all seems. If you are willing to settle for an eyeful of magic, then this unique film can be appreciated for how beautiful it all is–which will probably please only those already converted by Svankmajer’s theatrics. His Faust borrows from the texts of Goethe, Marlowe, and the obscure novelist Christian Dietrich Grabbe.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”