Czech animator Jan Svankmajer is one of the most distinctive and influential of contemporary filmmakers.
Czech animator Jan Svankmajer is one of the most distinctive and influential of contemporary filmmakers. As a leading member of the Prague Surrealist Group, his work is linked to a rich avant-garde tradition and an uncompromising moral stance that brought frequent tensions with the authorities in the normalization years following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Svankmajer's formative influences have been the pre-war surrealists, the Prague of Rudolf II, experimental theatre, folk puppetry and, above all, the political traumas of the past 50 years. Like his contemporaries—including playwright president Vaclav Havel, and, in exile, novelist Milan Kundera and filmmaker Milos Forman—Svankmajer's dominant life experiences have been the realities of the Stalinist system, both the explicit state terror of the 1950s and the Brezhnevist neo-Stalinism of the 1970s and the 1980s.
After training in puppetry and working in the Prague theatre, he made his first film in 1964. He directed a number of important films in the 1960s, including the live-action and Kafkaesque Byt (The Flat, 1968) and Zahrada (The Garden, 1968) and consolidated his international reputation with Moznosti dialogu (Dimensions of Dialogue) in 1982. Since then, he has continued his highly visual and poetic approach in two feature-length films, Neco z Alenky (Alice, 1987) and Lekce Faust (Faust, 1994). As a filmmaker, Svankmajer is constantly exploring and analyzing his concern with power, fear and anxiety, confrontation and destruction, magic, the irrational and the absurd, and displays a bleak outlook on the possibilities for dialogue. In challenging accepted narrative, the bourgeoisie of realism (nezval), and the thematic and formal conventions of the mainstream media, Svankmajer's work is startlingly dynamic, subversive, and confrontational.