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Fantasy, Lust Drive 'Conspirators of Pleasure' Fable


"Conspirators of Pleasure" is an apt, elegant title for the great Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer's latest work, a brilliant fable of sexual longing and gratification at its most furtive and kinkiest.

Yet another of Svankmajer's inspired blends of live-action and animation, it uses compulsive-obsessive sexual behavior as a metaphor for a society long repressed by religion and oppressed by politics.

Svankmajer belongs to a rich Eastern European tradition in animation and experimental cinema that views the universe as an absurd mechanism that remorselessly grinds down the individual, often to the sound of a tinkling music box, itself an intricate, self-contained device. Until its bravura final sequences, "Conspirators of Pleasure" is entirely live-action, but its people are so driven by lust that they might well be puppets; it's not for nothing that Svankmajer belonged to the famous Lanterna Magika puppet theater when he entered films.

There is pitch-dark humor here, but it's matched by an acute sense of pathos.

As if it were clockwork, the film is set in motion by a diffident young man, Mr. Pivonka (Petr Meissel), purchasing a Playboy from a vendor (Jiri Labus) who is tinkering with some sort of electronic device. The magazine centerfold sets off in Pivonka the most elaborate and macabre of sexual fantasies.

Meanwhile, a post woman, Mrs. Malkova (Barbora Hrzanova), presents him with a letter containing the message, "On Sunday." Pivonka then asks his blowzy landlady, Mrs. Loubalova (Gabriela Wilhelmova), to kill a chicken for him.

Mrs. Malkova makes a delivery to the home of an attractive newscaster (Ana Veltinska), who happens to be the object of the news vendor's passion and whose husband, a police commissioner (Pavel Novy), proves to be just as impassioned fetishist as everyone else in the film.

Not one word is spoken throughout the film, but Svankmajer typically makes portentous use of everyday sounds.

Even though Svankmajer acknowledges his obvious debt to Sigmund Freud, Luis Bun~uel, Max Ernst, the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, you really have to wonder how he came up with so much kinky stuff: How much was research, how much was imagination?

It seems safe to say that most of those who see this picture will have their minds boggled. Yet the kinkiness is never just for its own sake but to give way to a chilling larger view of individuals in profound isolation, deprived of the highly tactile sensuality Svankmajer evokes with a lush, bold outrageousness. Sex and religion intermingle in the bizarre rituals these individuals construct for themselves, frequently involving reworking the most mundane items. (Tear apart a couple of umbrellas and you've got a great pair of bat wings.)

Some of these people's fantasies seem harmless enough, but Pivonka and Malkova reveal a darkly destructive aspect to their fantasies of each other. It's part of Svankmajer's assured artistry that you can't tell for sure that these six people connect with one another except on some psychic level, if at all. It may all just be coincidence that they are interlinked in the unique universe Svankmajer inevitably projects with such dazzling force and originality.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: Although there is no graphic sex and little nudity, the film is entirely unsuitable for children.

'Conspirators of Pleasure'

Petr Meissel: Mr. Pivonka

Gabriela Wilhelmova: Mrs. Loubalova

Jiri Labus: News vendor

Barbora Hrzanova: Mrs. Malkova

Ana Veltinska: Newscaster

Pavel Novy: Police commissioner

A Zeitgeist release of an Athanor (Czech Republic)/Delfilm (Geneva)/ Koninck Intl. (London) co-production. Writer-director Jan Svankmajer. Puppet designer Eva Svankmajerova. Animators Bedrich Glaser, Martin Kublak. Producer Jaromir Kallista. Co-producers Pierre Assouline, Keith Griffiths. Cinematographer Miroslav Spala. Art directors Svankmajerova, Svankmajer. Costumes Ruzena Blahova. Editor Marie Zemanova. Music coordinators Quay Brothers, Olga Jelinkova. In Czechoslovakian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.


* Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.

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