will be one of the last “patients” to witness the business end of a Communist
era mental hospital. Ironically, the provincial
train dispatcher could benefit from professional psychiatric treatment, but he
will have to exorcise the ghosts from his past on his own in Tomáš Luňák’s Alois Nebel (trailer here), which releases
today on DVD from Zeitgeist Films.
on the first Czech graphic novel published after the Velvet Revolution, AN begins during the waning days of
Communism. A fugitive Mute has been
captured at Alois Nebel’s sleepy station in Bílý Potok, much to the satisfaction
of his scheming co-worker, Wachek. A
black marketer and snitch, Wachek and his old sinister man are unnerved by news
of the fall of the Berlin Wall. However,
they still have extensive contacts with the local officials and the nearby
Soviet garrison, which they intend to exploit while they still can.
Nebel’s position, it is rather easy for Wachek to have him institutionalized,
especially since the dispatcher is legitimately disturbed. As a child, Nebel witnessed the forced post-war
deportations of ethnic Germans from the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland, including very
personal atrocities that continue to trouble his mind as dreams and
hallucinations. Frankly, his deliriums
are becoming more frequent and intense, but he will get little treatment in the
sanitarium beyond some mind-numbing drugs.
Yet, he will find himself compulsively drawn to the mysterious Mute also
Communism will fall and Nebel will be released, but without the security of his
former position. The lifelong railroad
employee will spend months in the veritable wilderness, living amongst the
homeless in Prague’s grand Central Station.
Of course, all roads lead back to Bílý Potok for a reckoning of Biblical
in the rotoscoping style notably employed by Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, the live action conversion
technique is not universally embraced by animation fans. However, Luňák and head animator Pavla Dudová’s
striking black-and-white application perfectly suits AN’s moral ambiguities and noir sensibilities. Every frame of this film looks absolutely
beautiful, in a moody, atmospheric sort of way.
this is a dark film in every conceivable manner. The railroad motif is no accident,
representing a wide array of Twentieth Century horrors, including the Holocaust,
troop transportation to the front, and the post-war vengeance taking. The rather militarist look of Nebel’s
railroad uniform is also hard to miss, especially in light of his German
surname (meaning “fog” or “life” spelled backwards).
the rotoscope method, real performances went into the making AN beyond mere voice-overs. Although modeled after the graphic novel
character, Miroslav Krobot invests the animated Nebel with profoundly heavy
world-weariness and guilt. Likewise,
Karel Roden helps create a haunted and haunting portrait of the Mute.
Nebel presents a decidedly pessimistic vision of human nature, it is not
cynical. In fact, one could argue it is
ultimately quite humanistic.
Nonetheless, it is definitely an animated feature for connoisseurs who
prefer their film noirs served straight, no chaser. Visually arresting with an unusually sophisticated
narrative, Alois Nebel is highly
recommended for fans of ambitious adult animation and Czech cinema. It is now available for home viewing as part
of the Kimstim collection from Zeitgeist Films, along with Eric Khoo’s richly
Labels: Animated films, Czech Cinema, DVD, Film Noir