Little Otik

It's a boy! Mr Horak finds a son in the strangest place...
aka Greedy Guts
dir-scr Jan Svankmajer
with Veronika Zilkova, Jan Hartl, Kristina Adamcova, Jaroslava Kretschmerova, Pavel Novy, Dagmar Stribrna, Zdenek Kozak, Jitka Smutna, Jiri Labus, Tomas Hanak
release UK 26.Oct.01
FilmFour 00/Czech 2h11

3½ out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Based on a surreal Czech fairy tale, filmmaker-animator Svankmajer brings considerable skill and wit to this otherworldly, cautionary story. It's effective--funny and very creepy--but could have worked even better with a bit more focus and some judicious editing. Bozena and Karel Horak (Zilkova and Hartl) are a childless couple who buy a summer house to try and get on with their life. When Karel digs up a tree stump in the garden, he thinks it looks a bit like an infant boy, so he polishes it up and gives it to his wife, feeding her obsession for a child. But her love brings little Otik to life, and he has a voracious appetite ... for people! The nosy little girl next door (Adamcova) figures out what's going on (she's read the tale of Otesanek), but her parents (Kretschmerova and Novy) don't listen to her, so she has to take matters into her own hands.

Loaded with cruel humour, the film keeps our interest even as it rambles on. The characters are very cleverly drawn and played--half caricature but also real people we can identify with in their fears, curiosities and most of all the torn loyalties of wanting to nurture a child even though he's a murderous monster! For the Horaks, their "child" is a mixed blessing: a mother's ecstasy, a father's hell. But it's the film's cheekiness that wins us over--the dynamics of the neighbours in the apartment building, terrific character details, the wicked stop-motion animation that brings Otik (and other things) to life. It brings to mind the edgy wackiness of Jeunet & Caro blended with the surreal dark beauty of Buñuel, by way of Being John Malkovich. But Svankmayer doesn't know where to pull back, and he overloads the film with repetitive scenes--it's easily a half-hour too long--that muddle his message about tampering with the natural order of things. This is still a true original, and well worth seeing. But a sharper, crisper edit would have made the film spring to life even more effectively.
themes, violence, some nudity cert 15 5.Sep.01

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© 2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall