Sileni (Lunacy), 2005Dir — Jan Svankmajer
If an audience wants to be subjected, submerged in the hypnotic allure of Sileni, there's a precondition. Flexibility with dominant beliefs, laws, conventional ideas are warrented. Keep all the preconceptions out. The reason being—it explores dark comedy, poe's horror, and mixes them with Marquis De Sade's extreme libertarian ideas. The film can easily identify with the qualities of nightmares, and the aptness of the name Lunacy can too be observed readily.
Although the filmmaker, Jan Svankmajer, one of the finest filmmakers the Czech ever produced, says beforehand "This film cannot be taken as a piece of art, for art is already dead!", I cannot think of the film as anything but a work of high art!
Jean Berlot was returning after his mother's funeral. On the road, he takes refuge in an inn. There at night he has a severe mental breakdown and meets Marquies de Sade. De Sade has a mysterious air around him but looks like he's pretty well off. He takes a pity on Jean and offers him shelter. Plenty of food and a roof over his head. But one day, deep in the night, when even the earth forgot to breathe, and all living beings were in deep slumber, Jean observed a satanic orgy in De Sade's stable through a crevice. As a result, his mental health takes a huge nosedive and he lands in an asylum. But even there, everything is not what they seem. There's something lurks within the asylum.
Sade's influence is too ostentatious to ignore in this case. If you ever heard the terms Sadist and Sadism, they come from his works. Marquis De Sade was a writer, philosopher who believed in extreme freedom. Freedom from all sorts of human made conventions, law, religions, morality — everything. His works often involved sexual perversions and other bizarre ideas. His ideas have been influencing popular cultures since then. For example, Salo: or 120 days of Sodom, that controversial film by Pier Paolo Pasolini, it is an adaptation of Sade's book.
Jan Svankmajer's works are also influenced by Sade to some extent. Apart from Sileni, his Conspirators of Pleasure, a film primarily about bizarre sexuality, has some obvious references to him. I remember being flabbergasted seeing that one!
The protagonist of Sileni, Jean, can be imagined as a chariot for the audience. The perspective of an everyman. And the film is a continual change of themes, sets and expressions. Svankmajer's usual stop motion animated surrealism is not dominant here but the similar feeling — like you're standing in a quicksand, in the dark, with no hope of rescuing — is still there. Which makes the film equally disturbing and enjoyable! And of course, some underlying metaphors are there too, and it's the audience's job to figure them out. This is when one understands why Svankmajer was warning at first. This chaotic beauty is too much to handle and the hope of salvaging some meaning is a lost cause.
I don't think this is his best work though as I've seen many of his films — short and features. But it is still one of the few movies that shot my nerves up and sent me on a fever dream. A great film.
the photos are screenshots from the film
Here's the trailer -
You can read more of my film and literature related articles on my hive blog page.