Kostnice (1970)

Run Time - 10 min.  |   Countries - Czechoslovakia  |  
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Kostnice is an oddity in the films of Jan Svankmajer, in that the famed animator uses no animation whatsoever in this 10-minute cultural documentary. It is also unusual in that there is no real overt example of surrealism or absurdism in the piece, although the latter makes itself felt subtly throughout. What makes Kostnice unmistakably a Svankmajer film is the bizarre grotesqueness of its subject matter -- a trip through the Sedlec Monastery Ossuary. Fashioned from the bones of some 70,000 victims of the Black Death, this monument to death and decay was created over a ten-year period by artist Frantisek Rint, who decorates the entire building with skulls and bones, making pyramids, crosses -- even an entire chandelier. Merely photographing this macabre landmark would be disturbing enough, but Svankmajer ups the "disturbing" level with his close-ups and swift jump-cuts, creating an extra level of tension. Adding to this is the haunting a cappella version of "To Paint the Portrait of a Bird," which echoes throughout. Unsettling and fascinating, Kostnice is a film that once seen cannot be forgotten.