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Surviving Life

Surviving Life

Released 6 January 2012
Director Jan Svankmajer

Vaclav Helsus, Klara Issova, Zuzana Kronerova, Daniela Bakerova, Emilia Dosekova
Writer(s) Jan Svankmajer
Producer(s) Jaromir Komrzy
Origin Czeh Republic, Slovakia, Japan
Running Time 109 minutes
Genre Animation, comedy, fantasy
Rating TBC

A life less ordinary.

And now for something completely different... From Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer comes the surrealistic treat Surviving Life; a part animated, part live action film about the subconscious, memory and dreams. I realise that this description makes it sound off-puttingly pretentious but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there are complicated themes at the heart of Surviving Life but it also teems with playfulness and is a joy to watch.

The film concerns Eugene, a middle aged office worker who lives an uneventful but contented life with his wife. His small world is shaken when in his dreams one night he meets a beautiful woman who introduces herself as Eva. Eugene becomes besotted with her and can’t wait to get back to sleep to see Eva again. Unfortunately, his subconscious is not being co-operative and he begins to see a psychotherapist in the hope that she can help him manipulate his dreams and unite him once again with his dream woman. At first he spends some happy times in this twilight world but soon he is forced to face up to the childhood trauma lurking in his sleeping mind.

For a film about dreams the visual approach is perfect (although in an introduction, the director claims the animation was the result of not being able to afford a live action film). Paper cut-outs of the actors move against static backgrounds, cut with close-ups of the actors speaking live. It sounds unwieldy but works incredibly well, making it possible for Svankmajer to blend the real with the fantastic thereby producing strikingly surreal dream images;  naked women with the heads of chickens, a huge snake creeping through the streets and some seriously out of proportion fruit. At times, the story twists itself into such knots that its impossible to know what is and isn’t a dream but the film is so wonderful to look at, it scarcely matters.

Surviving Life is a unique cinema experience. I guarantee you won’t see anything else like it for the rest of the year and in this cinema landscape of sequel after sequel, it is a treat to be treasured.

- Linda O’Brien