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Short of the Week: Jan Švankmajer's surreal 1992 film 'Food'


For me, animated film is about magic.” – Jan Švankmajer

Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer ranks among the pioneers of cinematic surrealism alongside the likes of David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Luis Buñuel. Over the course of his notable career, Švankmajer produced multiple masterpieces like Alice in 1988 and, years later in 2005, Lunacy. His original experiments with surrealist ideals and the subversive manifestations of his artistic vision have influenced many filmmakers who have followed in his footsteps, including Terry Gilliam and the Quay Brothers among others.

Although many of his films have dissected the perverse relationship humans have with food, his 1992 short film titled Food deconstructs the rituals of eating and transforms it into something grotesque. Divided into three separate sections called “Breakfast”, “Lunch” and “Dinner”, Švankmajer makes live-action look like claymation and employs actual claymation for quasi-body horror.

We are made to observe as people clamber to swallow everything they can. In the first segment, Švankmajer criticises the machinery of communist societies by imagining a world where humans become dumb-waiters that regurgitate already-consumed food items for the cheapest prices. He follows up with an incisive commentary on class divides, presenting a scene from a restaurant where a rich man and a poor man dine together.

Since there is no food on their plates, they start eating things that are around them. They eat flowers, napkins, their own clothes, the table, the chair until there is nothing left except each other. That’s when the rich man proceeds to devour the poor. The final sequence is the logical conclusion of this eternal hunger, driving people to eat their own body parts: hands, legs and even their genitals.

In an interview, the filmmaker said: “There is no institution performing censorship in neoliberalism. Its function is performed securely by the market. You simply cannot get money for some themes because they do not meet the commercial criteria. The only function that the modern consumer society assigns to art is to fill man’s free time and entertain him, so he can spend his time before rejoining the production process pleasantly and problem-free. Under these circumstances ‘art,’ as it has been and is conceived by natural nations or Surrealism, is condemned to be cast out to the edge of society and occulted—or, in the worst case, used as ‘food’ by various sects.”

Watch Jan Švankmajer’s brilliant 1992 short film ‘Food’ below.