Film review: Little Otik Otesanek

Published: Monday, May 20 2002 3:44 p.m. MDT

The most telling scene in the oddball horror-comedy-fable "Little Otik (Otesanek)" occurs fairly early on. It's a fantasy sequence in which a butcher sells newborn babies in an open-air market.

If, instead of amusing, you find that too dark for your taste, you're better off skipping this

film, because that scene is about as light-hearted as any of the off-kilter humor here gets.

Anyone familiar with the works of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer (best-known for his surreal clay-animated short films) won't be surprised.

In a way, this live-action film recalls such darkly humorous horror pieces as Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" and the "It's Alive" series, though it's actually a loose adaptation of a well-known Czech folk tale, "Otesanek."

In this version, yuppies Karel and Bozena (Jan Hartl and Veronika Zilkova) are unable to conceive. As something of a joke, Karel carves up a tree stump, varnishes it and presents it to his wife, who treats it as flesh-and-blood.

Though Karel gets her to put the "child" away in a cupboard, Bozena starts pretending she's pregnant (even using pillows to simulate different stages of pregnancy). And when she finally "delivers" her little bundle of joy, Jan is horrified to see that the stump has come to life.

But they might not be able to keep that secret for long — especially when the wooden "child" develops a taste for pets (the couple's unfortunate cat) and then, humans (an unfortunate mailman).

And when a neighbor girl (Kristina Adamcova) discovers the truth — and notes the striking similarities between the couple's predicament and a folk tale — desperate measures may need to be taken.

Svankmajer, who also wrote the screenplay, throws a few more curves at the audience (the film definitely doesn't end in the way you might expect). And there are several priceless gags in the background — such as a series of hilarious television-ad parodies.

Unfortunately, at more than two hours, all of this is a bit too much. And those who aren't fans of twisted horror-humor might be repulsed by much of the action.

"Little Otik (Otesanek)" is not rated but would probably receive and R for for horror violence and gore, some crude sexual humor, brief female nudity, scattered use of profanity and brief sex (a prop gag, done for laughs). Running time: 127 minutes.


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