Cospirators of pleasure

Jan Švankmajer
Czech Republic, Switzerland, United Kingdom 1996 / 75′

A black comedy about people governed only by the pleasure principle in other words, a film about freedom.

Freud said that in each of us there is a permanent conflict between the pleasure principle (which is anti-social, non-conformist, and drives us to pursue our desire and freedom, ignoring social scruples) and the reality principle (which is the moralising, limiting, levelling repression brought by society, upbringing and school). According to Freud, healthy psychological development requires a balance between these two principles. The characters in this film are clearly dominated by the pleasure principle.  The „harmless“, imaginative perversions of individuals are confronted with the monstrous perversions of civilisation, such as politics, war, peace conferences, ethnic cleansing, accidents and plagues. What in the individual leads to the freeing of desire (at least temporarily), leads in civilisation as a whole (in other words, when it is collectivised) to slavery and mass killings. Naturally the film is not as black and white as that – it is not a thesis. It is a product of the imagination, and such a film will always have more than one meaning and be open to  a wide range of interpretations. It is also impossible to overlook the role of ritual and magic, the role of which in the film is far from negligible, and through which the desire of the story’s two protagonists is realised. The central motif of the film is the sado-masochistic relationship between Mr. Pivoňka and Mrs. Loubalová. This relationship, realised by means of magic and with the help of a kind of grotesque ritual voodoo, is joined by the stories of the minor characters (a postwoman,  a television newsreader, a newsagent and an officer from the criminal police). Their obsession with pleasure (desire – freedom) makes them something of a “sect” of  kindred spirits. Everything suggests that the real life of people of this civilisation will continue to be lived more and more in something like “non-conformist sects” which grow up as a reaction to a society levelled into uniformity by advertising and consumerism. From the point of view of these masses and their manipulators, each attempt at a free, imaginative act of desire (pleasure)  has to be a manifestation of perversity. “Conspirators of Pleasure” is a grotesque black comedy which reflects on this disaster.


Six apparently average individuals have elaborate fetishes which they carefully indulge in, in surreptitious secret. A mousy shy postwoman letter carrier makes dough tiny balls which she grotesquely swallows before going to bed. A shop assistant clerk fixates on is obsessed with a TV news reader and he builds a machine to massage and masturbate himself with. One of his customers makes an elaborate chicken costume for a voodoo-like scene with a doll resembling his plump neighbour. She, in turn, has a doll which looks like him, which she whips and dominates in an abandoned church. The TV news reader has her own fantasy involving carp. Her husband, who is indifferent to her, steals materials to fashion elaborate artifacts which he rubs, scrapes and rolls over his body.

Regia, Sceneggiatura: Jan Švankmajer
Produttore: Jaromir Kallista, Pierre Assouline (co-produttore), Keith Griffiths (co-produttore)
Casa di produzione: Kino international
Fotografia: Miloslav Špala
Montaggio: Marie Zemanova
Musiche: Jaroslav Jancovec, Olga Jelinkova, Stephen e Timothy Quay
Costumi: Ruzena Blahova

Jan Švankmajer

Jan Švankmajer was born on September 4, 1934 in Prague. His studies at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague in the Stage Design Department and at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts in the Department of Puppetry (directing and stage design) largely predetermined his own creative development. He did not study film and its technology – perhaps this also contributed to Švankmajer’s not being weighed down by the “cinematic art” with its excessive dedication to the technical medium and resulting depressive receptiveness. In the Magic Lantern Theatre he experimented with some film procedures, including special effects, for the first time. He made his first film in 1964 at the Krátký film Studio in Prague. The creative diversity of Jan Švankmajer, however, exceeds the limits of film. The artist is active in autonomous visual expression which he has practised since the end of the 1950s. His literary expression consists mainly of scenarios and tactile poems, while his theoretical activity has focused on research of tactile phenomena and imagination. A considerable part of the imaginative strength of Jan Švankmajer consists of blasphemous black humour and a playful viewpoint which, together with extraordinary sensibility and a penetrating critical intellect, form the determining facets of his creative personality. His work, whether film, visual, or literary, is connected with the collective activities of the Czechoslovak Surrealist group.


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