Friday, November 19, 2010

Orbis Pictus (1997)

From Slovakian director Martin Sulík, Orbis Pictus is a strange film that follows a teenage girl, Tereza, on a fanciful journey as she's sent home from boarding school with a letter for her mother. As she travels in a childish and innocent manner through the Slovakian countryside, she has numerous strange encounters with a variety of people, such as a well-to-do mobster, a man marrying his brother's much older widow, a famous singer (whose fame Tereza is entirely ignorant of), an old woman buried up to her waist in the ground and a man employed seemingly to burn brand new clothes. All these people have stories to empart upon Tereza, and as the encounters become more and more surreal it becomes apparant that, as we see the film from a child's perspective, here a child's fantasy and imagination are melded with reality.

On the surface Orbis Pictus presents itself as a quirky and serene film about a young girl journeying in ignorance of the world around her. Yet there's an underlying sense of menace here, as through the various encounters Tereza's innocence is tested against a darker side of reality that, while only hinted at, is a disturbing presence all the same and sets up perfectly for the film's last revelations as we learn the contents of the letter and as Tereza finally comes face to face with her mother. Much like the bulk of the film, it's an entirely ambigious ending, but one that carries perfectly the film's theme of reality versus imagination and innocence.

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