Little Otik Puts Bizarre Twist on a Family Story
By Jesse Schlotterbeck

This Saturday OFS presents Little Otik, a fantastic film by Czech director Jan Svankmajer, famous for integrating stop-motion animation with live action.
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 Prague.

Little 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.

This 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.

Little Otik is showing this Saturday night at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. in Severance 108.

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