Severely Stumped

There's allegory and there's excess, and in his latest, longest feature to date, Czech animator-cum-director Jan Svankmajer seems to have lost sight of the line between making his point and gouging us with it. Our story focuses on a loving couple in Prague (Veronika Zilková and Jan Hartl), whose hopeful smiles are being rotted out by the dismay of fertility problems. Observed by a little neighbor girl (Kristina Adamcová, excellent) they feign pregnancy and parenthood with an anthropomorphized tree stump that magically and monstrously comes to life, hungry for human flesh. (Our friends at Earth First! oughta love this.) Issuing a derisive statement about human gluttony, Svankmajer's project doesn't want for uniqueness; it's just that his nasty baby's too obvious for the faithful and too icky for the uninitiated, arriving less as a profound proclamation than a protracted peculiarity. In addition to an animated folktale to parallel the story, Svankmajer litters his work with moral appraisals and grotesqueries--often simultaneously--yet Little Otik spends much of its screen time struggling between tedious gross-out redundancy and pseudo-porn. Still, heavy-handed delivery notwithstanding, this thing is matched by little in terms of sheer imagination and social resonance.

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