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AN UNREALITY CHECK FOR THE ADVENTUROUS.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

A crazy movie about the utterly relative nature of craziness, ``Lunacy'' is well-regarded Czech animator Jan Svankmajer's most successful venture into live-action filmmaking yet.

Make that mostly live-action. Svankmajer is still enchanted by the sight of stop-motion meat skittering around and homesteading in empty cow skulls and Venus statues.

How all this pixilated raw flesh figures in a movie that's already bursting with imagery from Edgar Allen Poe and the Marquis de Sade is a bit of a puzzle. Every time our troubled protagonist Jean (hangdog sad sack Pavel Liska) gets to wondering if it's he or the world that's lost its marbles, the meat starts moving, so I guess it's representative of something -- probably, though, just the pleasure Svankmajer gets from manipulating animal innards.

Fortunately, the main body of the film is far more intellectually rigorous, if no less perverse. In some kind of eternally overcast Europe where the 18th and 21st centuries co-exist, Jean is suffering from horrendous dreams of being menaced by thick, grinning bald guys with straitjackets, and hauled off to the loony bin.

A ``sympathetic'' Marquis (veteran actor Jan Triska) offers the troubled traveler refuge at his crumbling estate. There, the Marquis sets to messing with Jean's head more. There's an obscenely sacrilegious sex rite with enslaved naked nuns and a premature burial that almost kills poor Jean (and he's not even the one being buried).

To cure his phobia once and for all, the wicked Marquis convinces Jean to check into the local asylum, where the enlightened head doctor allows his charges as much freedom as they care to indulge. And boy, do they indulge, being insane and all. But, have the lunatics proverbially taken over? And is the staff any less mad?

Like Jean, we never know what's coming next, nor whom to trust, in ``Lunacy.'' Cruelty abounds, sensuality runs riot, and it's all naughty, nutty fun.

Only a master filmmaker could make such a fantastically sustained voyage into the Land of Questioning Reality, God and Propriety, and everything else we try to organize our sensibilities around. I just wish that the film had provided the answer to one question: What's with all the meat?

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss(at)dailynews.com

LUNACY - Three stars

(Not rated: violence, sex, nudity, profanity)

Starring: Pavel Liska, Jan Triska, Anna Geislerova, Pavel Novy.

Director: Jan Svankmajer.

Running time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Playing: Nuart, West L.A.

In a nutshell: One of the Czech surrealist's better recent freak-outs, about alarming goings-on in an isolated asylum. Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, the Marquis de Sade and whoever convinced the filmmaker that animated raw meat was interesting. In Czech with English subtitles.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Anna Geislerova as Charlota and Pavel Liska as Jean Berlot in Jan Svank- majer's ``Lunacy.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 18, 2006
Words:470
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