Synopsis: When Alice follows the White Rabbit into Wonderland, so begins this dream expedition into the astonishing landscape of childhood, through many dangerous adventures, and ultimately to Alice’s trial before the King and Queen of Hearts.
Czech animator Jan Svankmajer has created a masterpiece of cinema, a strikingly original interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. Svankmajer’s Alice remains true to the absurdity of Carroll’s original, but bears the stamp of his own distinctive style and obsessions. Combining techniques of animation and live action, he gives a new and fascinating dimension to the classic tale of childhood fantasies.
Něco z Alenky 8.75
I first came across this film many years ago, in a now-defunct DVD store in Montréal, on Ste-Catherine blvd. I don’t remember its name, but it was a medium-sized specialty store that carried all sorts of movies and movie-related trinkets and collectibles. It was quite a nice shop, like I hadn’t seen before, and enjoyed perusing its shelves, discovering new things as I pressed forward.
The cover for the ‘Alice’ DVD (as opposed to the movie poster shown above) drew me in right away. I had no idea what it was, but the picture of the girl was both artsy and slightly troubling: there was an inscrutable look on the girl’s face, somewhere between neutrality and a silent plea. It was something you might find in the face of a child who has begged for so long that s/he no longer felt the urgency – only its futility.
I came close to buying the DVD on face value alone (well, that, plus reading the back of the box, of course ); I had never seen it before and couldn’t imagine finding it again. Sadly, the price was quite out of reach of a blind buy and, even though I mulled it over throughout the day and considered going back a couple of times, I eventually decided to let it go and hope that I would find it again.
Since then, I read up on it and have only found praise for the film. It remained in the back of my mind, and I kept a watchful eye for it. I never found it again. In the last couple of years, my interest was renewed by a talk with a work colleague who had also heard great things about it and also expressed a deep interest in seeing the film someday. This stirred the hunter-gatherer in me and I sought it out once and for all.
At times kooky, at times creepy, this version of ‘The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland’ which, properly translated from the Czech, is actually titled ‘Something from Alice’, is an unforgettable piece of cinema. It’s part live-action, part stop-motion, and it’s completely offbeat in its execution. It can also take unexpected turns along the way (ex: the way that Alice gets into Wonderland).
The stop-motion animation isn’t anything of the scale and skill of Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, but it is quite elaborate and the filmmakers’ limitations are used to heighten their surrealistic approach to storytelling – we can never be sure if what we’re seeing is a stylistic choice or a compromise. But, if accepted as the former, it makes for an exceptional experience.
The foley work was unique, unbelievably original: most of the sounds that we heard were nowhere quite like the ones you’d traditionally expect in those circumstances. Either their foley artists were wholly inadequate, or this was a conscious choice being made to add to the experience. Whatever the case may be, it made quite an impression on all of us in the room that night.
Contrary to the more familiar cinematic takes on this work, which are kid-friendly, this Alice isn’t a daydreaming child: she is a curious and adventurous little girl, but she has a bit of a mean streak in her, pelting rocks, being contrarian and the like. She could also be kind of annoying, I found – but, thankfully, not much more than a real child can be at times.
The White Rabbit in this version is a strange being: it’s a stuffed rabbit that has been reanimated and escapes from its glass case. It’s constantly “bleeding” sawdust and licking it off its watch when it looks at the time. It also has a corpse-like face with rat teeth which click madly, nervously; it’s nothing like the loveable, if confused, White Rabbit that we are used to. In fact, this one comes into conflict with Alice and there are moments of nastiness between them.
This picture had everyone I was with giggling or audibly reacting to it from time to time; we were all impressed or awed enough to truly enjoy it. In fact, reactions were positive enough that a couple of us pretty much immediately wanted to watch it again – and more attentively this time (it was late at night when we first watched it and fatigue hindered the group). That’s quite telling.
For me, the only thing that spoiled it was the tea party sequence. I found that it partly killed the picture’s momentum because it was repetitive, uninteresting and inconsequential – all we got to see was a puppet rabbit and Mad Hatter swapping chairs over and over again. It was tedious to watch and there wasn’t much worthy of mention in this bit – quite unlike other interpretations of ‘Alice’.
While the North American DVD is of shoddy quality, being both over-dubbed and (presumably) cropped for 4:3 televisions, it gave me a terrific first impression of ‘Něco z Alenky’ – one which I will no doubt bolster by getting the pristine Blu-ray edition that was released in the UK.
I think that anyone who is a fan of Lewis Carroll’s creation and/or is adventurous enough should give it a try – it’s quite unlike anything else they’ll have seen before. As for me, this particular Wonderland won’t soon be forgotten. It’s, by far, my favourite new film this year.