Faust (1994)

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*. This movie is one of those out-of-the-way gems that I like to recommend to people who are looking for something a little different. It’s odd, erudite, entertaining, can be approached on many different levels, and it’s not a movie many people know.
*. It’s sort of like a silent film, what with the lack of dialogue. There’s really nothing outside of lines being read from a script, and yet it never gives you the feeling that anything is being left unsaid that would help us better understand what’s going on. It makes you wonder how much of what we say is unnecessary and extraneous, just a way of passing time.
*. Without language, how much more heightened becomes the visual sense, the need to look for meaning in what you see in things? Even the map to the theatre isn’t so much a real map as an image in need of interpretation. “Faust” has to consult a city map in order to find out where the place indicated by the red dot actually is, as nothing is marked or labeled.
*. Images constitue the language of thought, dreams, and film, just as poetry is our natural language of speech. As Aristotle put it, “the soul never thinks without an image.”

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*. Of course when you watch a movie like this now you immediately think of Mr. Bean. Comedy is one of the few places where you still see silence being used effectively. And yet why shouldn’t silence lend itself just as much to horror, mystery, or a sense of philosophical dread, as it does here?
*. What’s it all about? Well I don’t think it has much to do with the Faust legend, at least as its usually understood. This version is usually said to be loosely based on Christopher Marlowe’s play, but aside from some of the lines there’s not much of a connection.
*. For one thing, there’s little exploration of Marlowe’s major theme of the consequences of hubristic ambition. I think this is mainly because there is no “Faust.” There’s just an ordinary Joe (actor Petr Cepek, whose overcoat, cigarette, flashlight, and general rumpled look recall Columbo) who gets sucked into a performance of Faust and reads (or lip synchs) a part of the play.
*. The Faust we get here isn’t after knowledge so much as companionship. That bachelor flat and lonely-guy meal are pretty depressing. He wants a baby, but can’t make one himself. And as for Helen, she’s only a sex doll who lures him into the catacombs.

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*. In that sudden transition from sex to death (chasing Helen into the crypt) I think you see the main theme Svankmajer is developing. What he seems most interested in is our fall or seduction into a world of mortality and decay. It’s there in the time-lapsed fruit in the window going from ripe to rotten, and the fast-aging baby becoming a skull. Even the environment is a labyrinth of dilapidated ruins of modern and ancient buildings.
*. I wonder what the significance is of all the close-ups of mouths. It’s most obvious when the puppets are talking, but we also zoom in on Faust’s mouth when he is giving a speech, and when he’s stuffing his face with food (or when other people, or puppets, are stuffing theirs). Perhaps it has something to do with the line Marlowe gives Faustus, that “The god thou serv’st is thine own appetite,” but given that the imagery attaches to everyone and not just Faust I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s something less, and more.
*. Appetite is, however, Faust’s downfall. He can’t keep away from that honey of generation, even when he knows that it’s a lie and will betray him. Players and painted stage (to stick with Yeats) take all his love, and not those things that they are emblems of. But it’s not a personal tragic flaw, product of Faust’s overweening pride. It’s the human condition. As Faust runs out of the theatre another man is coming in to take his place in the eternal drama.

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