French/Czech live-action/puppet/stop-motion Animated Movie (1994). Athanor/Heart of Europe Prague K/Lumen/BBC Bristol/Koninck/ Pandora. Pr Jaromir Kallista. Exec pr Karl Baumgartner, Keith Griffiths, Michael Havas, Hengameh Panahi, Colin Rose. Dir Jan Švankmajer. Anim dir Bedrich Glaser. Screenplay Švankmajer. Based on libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré for the Opera Faust (1859) by Charles Gounod, and on the Faust recountings by Goethe, Christian Dietrich Grabbe, Christopher Marlowe and the Czech Folk Puppeteers. Starring Peter Cepek (Faust/Mephistopheles) plus Jan Kraus, Vladimir Kudla, Jiri Suchy, Antonin Zacpal. Voice actor Andrew Sachs (English-language version). 92 mins. Colour.
To synopsize this exceptionally complicated, highly Surrealist (> Surrealism) and often very funny movie would not be sensible. The central character – just another citizen of a modern city, a scruffy Kafka-esque figure – is, we discover, the next in an endless cycle of Fausts, lured by two emissaries of Lucifer to a derelict Edifice which he penetrates to discover is both a theatre (in fact, two theatres: Puppet and operatic) and the alchemical laboratory (> Alchemy) of Dr Faustus, where he witnesses and aids the creation of a Homunculus. In this cloven locale – and in part in the real world – he is driven, in what has become a Godgame, both to play Faust for an audience and to be Faust, ever following the script which sometimes he finds lying around (> Story). Mephistopheles, when summoned, proves to be "Faust" – a Mirror of the man. The damnation is predetermined, as "Faust" comes to understand too late to deviate from the script: in his instance it comes when, fleeing the theatre, he is run over by an empty car.
The tale is told using a stimulatingly bewildering variety of media, with "Faust" himself being at one moment a puppet and the next a human being (though even then it is made clear that he is in a different sense still a puppet). Other main characters are likewise always ambiguous: aside from the emissaries Cornelius and Valdez, who remain human, they seem to be puppets yet their scale is ever uncertain and they are sometimes capable of independent action far from the strings of the never-seen puppeteer. The setting shares this uncertainty: as if the stage were a Portal, sometimes it briefly blossoms to become a real-world exterior, which in turn can sometimes be seen to be merely a puppets' stage.
There is much of nightmare in this movie as it locks one in its paranoid grip, just as "Faust" is locked in Lucifer's. Apart from one or two longueurs, it is so dense with fantasy notions, icons and imageries that repeated viewing is necessary before one has the feeling one has watched it completely. F has the completely unsettling effect that is unique to the best of Fantasy.
It should be noted that the excellent dubbing of the English-language version, with all voices played by Andrew Sachs, is in itself no mean feat. [JG]