Otik Puts Bizarre Twist on a Family Story
Saturday OFS presents Little Otik, a fantastic film by Czech director
Jan Svankmajer, famous for integrating stop-motion animation with
Over his 35-year career, Svankmajer has moved from experimental
surrealism to narrative feature films, integrating his abstract
object-centered work within cinematic conventions.
Svankmajer’s work is often screened at artsy theaters, exhibited
at museums and cited as an influence by far younger, more famous
filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton. This talented director
has yet to attain widespread fame from worldwide movie audiences.
His distinctly bizarre subject matter may explain why.
Based on a traditional Czech folk tale, Little Otik is the story
of a couple so distraught by their inability to conceive a child
that they adopt a stump of wood. With motherly love, this stump
becomes animate, eventually growing into a man-eating monster.
While Otik’s parents recognize that their stump has become
socially dangerous, they are faced with the dilemma of whether to
destroy what they so lovingly raised.
The film adds a dimension by writing in its own source. An adolescent
neighbor of Otik’s finds an illustrated version of the fairytale
that is being played out next door. Yet, while her version of Otik
takes place in a rural area, the movie version is set in contemporary
Otik touches on bulimia and commercialization, current signs of
excess and indulgence that the fairytale cautions against. His indictment
of commercialism is especially pronounced. Svankmajer makes characters
out of things and has them caution against their prominent place
in our lives. He even uses stop motion techniques on live-actors,
equating them with their objects in their jerky mechanical movement.
is by far the most accessible and enjoyable of Svankmajer’s
work, which far surpasses his repetitive, puppet-centered Faust.
Otik is interesting in that it functions like a sci-fi or horror
film but inverts its tenets. The grotesque comes not from space
but the backyard, in a banal stump of wood, placing our fascination
not with some horrific unknown but the commonplace — parenthood.
Here, the monsters aren’t out to get children; children grow
to be monsters. Little Otik was identified by one critic as reflecting
the anxiety of parenthood, in league with other avant-garde or horror
flicks, like Eraserhead or The Exorcist.
Otik is showing this Saturday night at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.
in Severance 108.