WIDE ANGLE

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Sadomasochism, fetishism and obsessive desire culminating in a kinetic orgy of auto-erotic sex and violence. No, not a description of this week's glossy success de scandale from Joe Eszterhas, but the latest work from cult Czech animator, Jan Svankmajer. Conspirators of Pleasure goes on limited release in London this week, and will probably attract its share of small audiences and critical acclaim before heading off to semi-obscurity in art-house cinemas around the country. Which is a pity, because it's that rare thing: a serious film about sex. A film genuinely interested in Freudian psychology, rather than using it as an excuse for a series of humping body doubles.

In the film, the Czech director - best known for surreal animated fantasies such as Alice and Faust - turns his attention on the nature of fantasy itself, more specifically, he examines what happens when private sexual predilections spill over into the real world. In his words, it's a movie about how "what in the individual leads to the freeing of desire (at least temporarily), leads in civilisation as a whole to slavery and mass killings".

While there's nothing new in the idea of perversity lurking beneath the polite surface of bourgeois life, Svankmajer's film is remarkable for its combination of sensuality and savage intelligence. Moving from impassive observation to a wonderfully tactile detail, Svankmajer shows how one man ritually fashions himself an effigy and how another harvests brushes and feathers for a bizarre ceremony in his garden shed.

It's a silent film, Svankmajer's eloquent images hypnotise you, lulling you into a trance-like empathy with his group of obsessives, so that when a newsreader dabbles her feet ecstatically in a bowl of carp, you can almost feel them nibbling at your toes. The director's real triumph, however, lies in making you feel that these people are simultaneously ordinary humans and lascivious grotesques. Although clearly the work of trick cameras, the final, frenzied climax is more shocking than a great deal of live-action cinema.

Svankmajer began making films in 1960s Czechoslovakia, and the subversive nature of movies meant that he was banned by the old regime. Nowhere is this fearless aesthetic better demonstrated than in Conspirators. Sex will never be the same again.

Liese Spencer

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