Dreams turn to reality for surrealist film director

The Czech film director, Jan Svankmajer discusses a troubled childhood and the inspiration for his new film.
  • @EmilyJupp

Dreams are "undoubtedly one of the most substantial sources of inspiration," says the Czech film director, producer and animator, Jan Svankmajer, discussing his new film, Surviving Life.The plot follows a man who meets and falls in love with a woman in his dreams. The dreams compel him to try to uncover their meaning and in his obsession with his dream world he begins to spend more time away from his real life.

The story evolved from Svankmajer's own dream, "after waking up I concluded that it was like the beginning of a film, bearing a mystery, and so I wrote the rest of it. It launched the whole psychoanalytical avalanche." Indeed, Svankmajer's fascination with psychoanalysis pervades the imagery of the film. Photos of Jung and Freud argue with each other in the psychologist's office and, in the street scenes, giant Monty Pythonesque hands pass eggs to each other through the buildings and giant apples roll across the roads. Collage and stop-motion animation techniques combine to create a moving surrealist collage.

Svankmajer admits to being a "problematic" child. "I had certain problems, for example, with food. I was an introverted, over-eroticised child. I would refuse food and ended up in a wheelchair."  But his obsessive nature and love of being scared have lasted into adulthood and inspire most of his ideas for animations. "If there were no such obsessions, that we have been dragging behind us from our childhood, then what would we create from? I have liked to be scared since my childhood. After all, childhood fears, as well as masturbation, develop imagination. In Czech Lands we say that ‘fear has big eyes'."

Despite his belief that a person's childhood influences their adult life — a theory propounded by Freud — "Surviving Life" seems to gently mock psychoanalytical theory, "One wise man wrote that the things that we are most capable of making fun of are the things we love," says Svankmajer, "psychoanalytical theory works with symbols that are especially dear to me. It is the most extensive and the most imaginative system for interpretation of man and the world."

Surviving Life is showing in different cities across the UK, on the following dates:

19-20 January - Cardiff, Hammersmith, Derby, Leeds

 From 10 February - Ipswich

 From 24 Feb - Oxford, Inverness and Hereford

Go to www.vivaverve.co.uk for an up to date list of screenings.