"...a grim reminder of human fallibility." - Ron Nachmann, Dangerous Minds
Though best known for his surreal animated films, this live action short is one of Jan Svankmajer’s most disquieting visions of death and decay. The film explores the elaborate ossuary at Sedlec Monastery. On the soundtrack (unlike the alternate version with a remarkable score by Zdeněk Liška), a tour guide explains that the cathedral is comprised of tens of thousands of skeletons, some of them dating back to the Black Death. The bones are fashioned into letters of the alphabet, chandeliers and drapery. Much to the tour guide’s consternation, some of the skulls have been signed with ballpoint pen. Her badgering seems to exist in a different universe than Svankmajer’s probing camera. One cannot help but think that he may have been thinking of the more recent past filming of a mass grave less than two years after the Soviet Union brutally suppressed the Prague Spring.
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This short film defies a critique. You need to see it to believe it. I had heard about this church made of bones - mostly skulls, 70,000 of them - and getting a good look at it is truly amazing. The filmmaker does a bunch of whirly camera work that becomes a bit annoying toward the end but, hey, it's only ten minutes long.
The compassion of the guide came through while showing a monastery full of skulls and bones. Man can be so horrible yet the potential is always there for the most evolved behavior as well. It must be quite intense to be among all of this and Svankmajer depicts the feeling well in a very short time.
A rare, bazaar find -what documentaries are supposed to be: without commentary or editorial-ism. Very instructive about a macabre approach to a battered culture.
I found it amazing that all those skulls and bones would be collected and used as decorative items. That people would spend part of their lives doing it.
Yes, I agree the picture quality is not very good.
I love the director, but this time I thought he didn't live up to the perfection I'm used to visually. His camera work was so edgy, which fit the tension of the guide, that it was distracting, at least with the subtitles. I was angry with the kids for writing on the skulls, and felt for the guide by the end more than I thought I would. I feel like that change of being sort of annoyed by her at first to strong empathy by the end was a lot of what the plot consisted of. Beautiful place, and fascinating to know more about its background.
Lovely. I love bones! When I visited the Capuchin Crypt in Rome, I'm looking closely at the bones and I look up and turn and see . . . Robert Englund! Yes, Freddy himself. I looked right at him and he put his finger up to his mouth. We continued to look at bones for the next hour without saying a word. True story.
I am a big fan of Svankmajer, so it was a treat to see something so stylistically different by him. However, it was frustrating how quickly the shots of this enormously beautiful ossuary went by. Several times I paused it just so I could stare at the bone sculptures. The morbidity behind the artistic elegance takes a second to sink in..