Friday, November 14, 2008
Directed by Jan Svankmajer
Winner of the Australian-Asia Literary Award, Svankmayer's Alice is a haunting, surrealist tale of a little girl who loses herself in a fantastic daydream. The short is obviously a creative spin-off of the Alice in Wonderland tale except Svankmajer sets out to have fun with it by playing with stop-motion animation.
The Czech filmmaker has an international reputation for his stop-motion animation shorts, which include among others Jabberwocky, The Male Game, and Down to the Cellar. A common thread through all of these films which is signature for Svankmayer is using stop-motion to create a visceral, unnerving feel for any type of cinematic enviornment.
In Alice viewers may find it shocking at first to see a stuffed rabbit come to life and break free from its model cage. As this is happening, we directly connect with the little girl, Alice, who is frightened and yet interested to see what the rabbit will do next. The story itself of course requires you to suspend disbelief and allow yourelf to become absorbed in the world and imagination of this girl.
One of Svankmajer's most succcessful techniques at achieving this is through the sound design. In a certain sense, the sound design is ironic in nature because it doesn't rely on music or artificial sound. Instead it attempts to be faithful to what's happening on the screen by maintaining a diegetic sound design. The film starts off with Alice throwing rocks into a cup of coffee with the sound of the splash being the only noise in the room. This places us inside the basement with Alice and means we will be hearing and seeing exactly what she is through a subjective lens. We emotionally connect with this girl like we would with Ofelia from Pan's Labyrinth for instance.
The layering of the sound is also consistent with the intended surrealistic goal of the film. Each action of either the rabbit or the character is represented by a sound. The sound drives the narrative in this sense. For example, as the rabbit begins putting on clothes we hear the sound of his mechanical arms clanking and even the subtle friction sound of the clothes rubbing up against its fur.
In Svankmajer's The Male Game we are immersed into a world which the most important thing in the world happens to be what also is on television: a soccer match. With Alice, Svankmayer intends to achieve a similar atmosphere of an enclosed environment by cutting us off from the rest of the world. Whether or not you like Alice, there's no denying the power of its relentless concept of imagination through the imagination of one girl.