Perhaps the one thing your Aunt John knows even less about than birthing babies is the actual desire to have one in the first place. Really, the last thing I need is someone else to ruin my figure, or a write a tell-all book about my disdain for wire hangers. Despite my intrinsic lack of maternal yearnings, I found myself drawn into the dilemma of the childless Czech couple in surrealist director’s JAN SVANKMAJER’s LITTLE OTIK. After the hopelessly impotent Karel (JAN HARTL) fails at impregnating his barren wife Bozena (VERONIKA ZILKOVA, a dead-ringer for HOPE DAVIS if there ever was one), he carves her a baby boy from a gnarled tree root. Bozena is instantly smitten with her psychotic-looking PINOCCHIO, which she names Otik, and begins mothering it as if it were a real child.
Director SVANKMAJER skillfully sets up the action to first seem that Bozena is so far removed from reality that she really thinks her swaddled root is a living and breathing baby. Alas, Bozena is not completely bonkers, though her later actions speak otherwise; Otik is quite the animate object with an even bigger appetite to match. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say he successfully moves from the bottle stage to solids in record time.
Providing a perfect foil to the harried parents with the killer (tree) tyke is the downstairs neighbor girl Alzbetka (KRISTINA ADAMCOVA). The parallels between Alzbetka and THE BAD SEED’s Rhoda Penmark, on the surface, are somewhat obvious: the tow-headed plats, the expressionless affect, and the precocious ingenuity needed to dispatch a pesky pedophile. What differentiates Alzbetka from Rhoda is her subtle transformation from one-note creep to full-fledged Mother Hen. When his parents abandon Oztik, Alzbetka, just short of strapping on one of those BabyBjörns that bother me so, picks up the slack and steps in as the ‘tween surrogate mother figure. As she is cleaning out her mother’s refrigerator, ADAMCOVA steals the movie out from everyone, when the third and final act becomes, more or less, her story.
Known for the animated shorts MEAT LOVE and FLORA, which both make cameos in the film, director SVANKMAJER brings his passion for food, signature animation style, and eye for disconcerting close-ups to LITTLE OTIK. Despite its lengthy run-time (2 hrs. 6 min.), the hypnotic visuals speed the movie along. The next time one of your mid-to-late thirties gal pals starts kvetching about her biological clock, sit her down and make her watch this film. Motherhood is really not for everyone, and it is not without its consequences.
*Special thanks to Reader Tara S. for bringing this gem to our attention!