(Prežlt Svuj Život)
With Surviving Life, Svankmajer recovers from the disappointment of Lunacy. It is not a return to the Claymation that Svakmajer built his reputation with but rather sees him embracing the Terry Gilliam school of cardboard cutout animation viz Monty Pythons Flying Circus (1969-74). Most of the film is shot in a combination of the cutout animation process, which allows all manner of surreal pop-ups and transformations, although these also alternate with live-action scenes. As he did in Lunacy, Svankmajer himself appears in the opening intro (albeit in cutout animated form) and explains in an amusingly grumpy tone that the film is animated because they didnt have enough budget and that photographic cutouts dont require catering costs.
With Surviving Life, Svankmajer mines a very similar territory to Michel Gondrys The Science of Sleep (2006) and its mind-boggling mix of dream, surrealism and deadpan nonsense. Much of the film takes place in a single street looking down a row of apartment blocks between which giant hands constantly appear, giant fruit is tossed or the apartment facades themselves sprout feet and start walking. There is a profusion of naked women with chicken heads, while Vaclav Helsuss doctor also sprouts a crocodiles head. An army of animated toy soldiers and tanks invades the office where Vaclav Helsus works, while his boss walks about with a business-suited man who has a dogs head on a leash. There are marching teddy bears that all sport erections. A visit to a bookshop comes with giant hands popping out from the bookshelves to helpfully offer books then later take back and reshelve them. At the psychiatrists office, photos of Freud and Jung sit side by side on the wall and are constantly offering facial reactions or sprouting arms and legs to kick and punch one another. The hero has a preoccupation with winning the lottery, although this is constantly thwarted by a bureaucracy that exists on the order of Svankmajers countryman Franz Kafka.
The plot (such as it is the film is more a series of nonsense happenings) probably goes on for some 20 minutes longer than it needs to. Nevertheless, Jan Svankmajer pulls it off with an appealingly light touch. Svankmajer says that Surviving Life is based on his own dreams, which seems eminently possible. Probably underneath it all there is something serious where Svankmajer seems to be working out childhood issues but everything comes wrapped up in so much playful nonsense that it is impossible to tell. By the end of the film where we discover that the man named Milan is Vaclav Helsuss father who is also named Eugene and that the E named woman is not only also Vaclav Helsuss mother whose true name is Eugenia but that Vaclav has also managed to impregnate her and give birth to himself, even the psychologist throws her hands up in the air in trying to deal with the Oedipal complications. Despite the clearly absurdist tone of the film, the final scene where Svankmajers stand-in Vaclav Helsus becomes a child joining his mother in the bath as she commits suicide is touching.