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  Conspirators of Pleasure Minding Their Own Business
Year: 1996
Director: Jan Svankmajer
Stars: Petr Meissel, Gabriela Wilhelmová, Barbora Hrzánová, Anna Wetlinská, Jirí Lábus, Pavel Nový
Genre: Comedy, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Mr Pivione (Petr Meissel) goes into his local newsagent's in Prague and thumbs through the porn magazines, then notices the proprietor (Jirí Lábus) behind the counter sharing a knowing glance with him; unsettled, he pays for the magazine and rushes out. This leaves the vendor return to his fiddling with a circuit board under the counter, for he has his own plans as to what he can do this evening, just as a number of others do, Mr Pivione included. When he returns to his apartment he settles down to study his purchase, but is distracted: all he needs is a little peace to satisfy him...

Czech writer and director Jan Svankmajer, the king of the surreal in cinema, maybe even more than Luis Buñuel, his spiritual ancestor in creativity if not style (animation was this man's forte), set out with a mission when he made Conspirators of Pleasure and that was to make an erotic film which featured no sexual intercourse whatsoever. This left his characters falling prey to their fetishes, and with this talent as you might have expected their proclivities were extremely strange. But erotic? Well, they're enjoying themselves in what could best be described as what Woody Allen might have termed "Advanced Masturbation" but whether that translated to the viewer getting turned on was rather less likely.

Then again, if the sight of a lot of by and large very ordinary-looking folks working themselves up into ecstacy did it for you, then you might appreciate it on the sexual level, but for most of those who ventured into Svankmajer's strange domain they would be laughing at how outrageous the director's imagination could be. He said he had been interested in depicting the tension between creativity and reality, the former being the source of pleasure and the latter the opposite, so with Sigmund Freud giving his presumed blessing in absentia we could see that the need for pleasure in these cases was purely selfish. Nobody here is interested in helping someone else reach orgasm, that much we can tell.

Yet even though this was a comedy of sorts, and it could make you laugh at how ridiculous it could become, that alien Svankmajer quality was never far away. Take Mr Pivione, who doesn't use his porn in the way you'd expect, preferring to apply them as papier maché for the chicken head mask he is making, though not before getting his neighbour across the way Mrs Loubalova (Gabriela Wilhelmová) to kill an actual chicken for him, which he plucks and cooks, keeping the feathers for the mask. However keep an eye on the neighbour, for part of the theme here was that no matter how excluded others might be in our search for satisfaction, there are connections between us which even we may not be aware of. Basically, these two have life-size dolls of each other, unbeknownst to them both.

So the camera follows them to a couple of locations in Prague's less attractive areas, and Mr Pivione sets about dressing up as a chicken and throwing a boulder at the now panicking dummy, while Mrs Loubalova turns dominatrix with her whipping boy mannequin. There are more: the vendor builds himself a machine which can arouse him while watching his favourite newsreader (Anna Wetlinská) on TV, the postwoman (Barbora Hrzánová) loves to make little bread balls which she draws into her head with tubes and a funnel, the newsreader has a fish fetish where she comes live on air as they suck her toes, and all because her husband (Pavel Nový) ignores her, preferring to run homemade instruments of feather, fur, rubber, nails and so on over his naked skin. While this could be oddly disturbing to some, and Svankmajer's ideas could have been too obscure, it's so absurd that it's easy to keep watching to see what fresh lunacy appears next even if you're not on his skewed wavelength. Don't go expecting porn, though.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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