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August 12, 2011

Little Otik - Classic Film Pick

Littleotik Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer draws upon his theatrical experience working with marionettes in this darkly comic retelling of an ancient Czech fairy tale. Svankmajer brilliantly intermingles stop-motion animation with live-action to tell the tale of an infertile married couple obsessed with having a child.

Husband Karel Horák (Jan Hartl) finds inspiration in a tree root that he shapes into the body of a genetically correct branch-limbed baby boy. Karel's wife Božena Horáková (Veronika Žilková) is overjoyed with the result. She hatches a plan involving nine handmade pillows of sequential sizes to publicly account for a gestation period that will allow her to act as a mother to the lifeless piece of wood. Upon its "birth," Otik comes to life.

Alzbetka (Kristina Adamcova) is a precocious pre-teen girl obsessed with sex and babies who lives in the couple's apartment building. Her intense curiosity about Karel's and Božena's "baby" keeps the movie on track with the tale of "Otesánek" that Alzbetka reads in her book of fairy tales. Otik proves to be an insatiably hungry baby. The family cat is turned into a pile of bloody bones. Otik grows to an enormous size. The mailman also becomes a victim. Little Otik takes on a serial killer identity. Daddy wants to chop baby into splinters, but mommy won't let him.

Svankmajer creates a darkly comic satire about the gruesome reality of childbirth and the tremendous social pressures that come with the duties of parenting.

Božena's compulsory overprotection of a baby she can't allow her neighbors to see is point of high humor. She takes to putting a plastic toy baby in the pram she leaves outside while she shops. Božena, you see, is overprotective only to a point.
Most striking is the bizarre baby itself. With its flat-top head, frayed branch appendages, and snout-like nose Otik makes a strong case for the ugliest infant you've ever seen. Still, in spite of its unsightly appearance and reprehensible behavior Božena can't help but adore her creepy child.

Fairy tales are cautionary stories written to teach children hard lessons most parents would rather not attempt to paraphrase. "Little Otik" is in a class all by itself. Jan Svankmajer is a mad genius of cinema.

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