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Jan Švankmajer’s Surviving Life


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Animation at its best

Image of Jan Švankmajer’s Surviving Life

Showing on Mon 25 18:15, Tue 26 14:45 @ Vue Leicester Sq & Thu 28 19:00 @ The Studio NFT

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Jan Švankmajer/ Czech Republic 2010/ 104 min

With George Osbourne’s recent address to the House of Commons where he listed the absurd cuts on welfare and public services to shouts of ‘more more more’ from his millionaire buddies in the cabinet and the announcement that the British Film Institute will face a massive 15% slash to its funding, the state of the arts in Britain and abroad is going to become perhaps even more dire and desperate as it did during Thatcher’s reign, a sentiment that this film is plagued by. The opening to Jan Švankmajer’s Surviving Life is introduced by the man himself, or at least a cut out version, against a black and white background of a terraced street he talks about how he wanted to make a life action film, but couldn’t get the funding, his head becomes a skull and falls into the gutter as he utters that animation is a “poor, imperfect substitute for a life action movie” but by using pictures of actors he could pay them less. Thus the tone is set for a feature that examines the curse of money, our obsession with wealth and the midlife crisis of a married man.

Aging Eugene (Václav Helsus) happily married to lottery obsessed Milada, begins to dream about Evgenia (Klára Issová), a young woman who shows him affection, love and lust. Desperate to escape to her world Eugene tries any method possible to induce his dreams. Eventually he visits a psychoanalyst where pictures of Jung and Freud applaud, fight and listen to her analysis.

Merging dream and reality is something Švankmajer has explored tirelessly thoughout his work (Alice, Little Otik etc) but as he points out at the start: “Sadly our civilisation has no time for dreams, there’s no money in it.” So sticking firmly within the realms of his distinct style of animation, Surviving Life blends mythology, psychology, dream and reality. Shamelessly pitting the fathers of psychology against each other and presenting both the Oedipus Complex and the theory of the Anima, Surviving Life is a humorous and entertaining examination of the individuation process. Eugene must confront each of the archetypes of his subconscious within a mythic world governed by his ‘conceited’ superego: a kind of Tiresias figure, an elderly lady pushing a shopping trolley calling herself the “Third Eye” or “Karl Marx”. As reality and dream become indistinguishable from one another, the driving forces of love and money are the only things that act as a thread between the two. With Milada desperate for a new washing machine and a better standard of living whilst the numbers being read out resemble some kind of cruel joke: ‘2, 3, 4, 5, 6’ and Eugene yearning for Evgenia and her gentle touch the sad representation of a midlife rut is expertly examined. Thankfully ignoring the CGI trap that other brilliant animation artists like Terry Gilliam have fallen into, Surviving Life manages to offer some superbly absurd animation with a psychological and political nod towards the human condition.