Byt (1968)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental  |   Sub-Genres - Surrealist Film  |   Run Time - 13 min.  |   Countries - Czechoslovakia  |  
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The works of Jan Svankmajer have clearly been influenced by the many years that his country was under communist regime, and Byt is no exception -- especially coming as it did a year after an increased crackdown on his artistic freedom. Surprisingly, given the circumstances, Byt is a very funny film, albeit one whose humor is based in blackly acidic surrealism. Like so many of this visionary filmmaker's work, Byt is quite disturbing, but somehow more relaxed than many of Svankmajer's other pieces. Indeed, at times one feels as if one is watching some sort of old Warner Brothers cartoon that never managed to see the light of day -- the kind in which the main character endures hardship after hardship, but in which each hardship provokes laughter rather than pathos. Still, Byt manages to strike emotional chords as well, evoking the feeling of desperation that an ordinary person feels when he is forced to live in a situation over which he has no control, whether in an overtly totalitarian regime or in a supposedly free society in which individual expression is actually discouraged, if not punished. And, of course, Byt contains numerous examples of the director's trademark stop-motion animation and bizarrely fascinating images (such as a stone coming through a water tap or a hand sinking into and becoming part of a wall). If Byt is ultimately a little glib or a trifle facile for some, too obtuse for others, or too challenging for still others, it nonetheless packs an undeniable punch and will be appreciated by fans of the director.