Insect (Jan Švankmajer, 2018)


A Bug’s (Existential) Life

For his latest film, master of animation, Jan Švankmajer, opens the doors to his workshop while he tries to adapt for the screen, with frustrating results, Karel and Josef Čapek’s play Pictures from the Insects' Life.

It’s a half-documentary, half-farce movie where the non-fiction segments work much better than the satirical ones. Unlike most of the behind-the-scenes features, Insect feels more authentic as it shows Švankmajer's method of working, like a magician revealing his tricks which are way more endearing and evocative than those impersonal CGI effects. And the actors, on the other hand, share their recurrent nightmares instead of your typically dull interviews: “I always wanted to work with Jan Švankmajer because I knew he’d cover me with worms and mustard and that's, of course, every actor's ambition.”

But it’s clear that the Czech director has always felt more comfortable in the short form as it seems that he invites us to his studio to compensate the thinness of Insect’s plot. In this fiction within fiction within fiction, a play rehearsal is constantly interrupted by the apathy and unprofessionalism of its amateur actors—one is late, another one’s asleep and the other is knitting all the time. The meta-narrative aspects give this satire about the way humans can’t overcome their primitive behaviours some oomph and vivacity, but overall the movie lacks control, funnier jokes and, most importantly, Svankmajer’s distinctive playful imagination.