MIFF Review: Surviving Life (Theory and Practice) (2010)

It seemed quite appropriate that I attended the short awards just before I attended the session of Jan Svankmajer’s film Surviving Life. Having only been familiar with a couple of his short pieces – namely Meat Love – I entered the cinema with vociferous anticipation.

What greeted me onscreen was without disappointment. Although, this being said, there are some things that I would have preferred to have been different. Firstly, running from one cinema to the next, I started to experience what has been referred to as “MIFF fatigue”. This has been commonly prevalent in the day-to-day happenings of the bloggers that are participating in the “MIFF Blogathon” project. While I am nowhere near even attempting a quarter of what these bloggers are subjecting themselves to, I am reminded of the potential pain and agony that could be adorning my MIFF experience.

Perhaps this is too long to yap on about, but for me, comfort is the key to getting through a film. I really did enjoy Svankmajer’s film, but my time sitting in the Greater Union cinema for just less than two hours reminded me of a tortuous experience a couple of MIFFs ago. It was the screening on David Lynch’s Inland Empire. We were running late, and had to be seated a few rows from the front of the screen at ACMI. I triple love David Lynch and all of his work, but the heat in the cinema from all of the sweaty cinephiles was too much for me, and I slowly started to lose my mind. As was the case last night. Thankfully, Surviving Life was only 105 minutes, compared to Inland Empire’s 180.

Despite these surly complaints, Surviving Life seemed to go down well. It was a truly Freudian tale of psychoanalysis, dreams, those who attempt to interpret them, and a dive into the unconscious. If one is familiar with Svankmajer’s work, then quirky animation is perennially evident. This allowed for the more stale moments to be quickly and momentarily revived by a rolling apple, or a slithering snake passing by.

Coupled with extraneous background happenings, there was a comically demented perverse sexuality. However, nothing that seems out of place or unusual in this tale of the superego, id and other Freudian related expressions.

My criticisms lie in the length of the film. True, Svankmajer has predominantly produced short films and this is of a somewhat greater length of time. But it is less about the actual minutes, and more about the storyline that seems a little stretched out. The first three quarters of the film go by really quickly, but it is the last quarter that drags. While it establishes the exposition set up in the first three quarters, I was let down by the conventional and predictable ending. I can imagine others could feel completely the opposite. Psychoanalysis is something very familiar to a wide range of audiences. What Svankmajer brought to the discussion was something unique, intriguing which then faded into the familiar. Regardless, it was joyous to see his unique style, and sick sense of humour, evident even from the start with his very funny introduction.



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