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[TWO NIGHTS ONLY, REVIVAL] “Now you will see a film for children,” Alice’s lips announce at the start of Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer’s 1988 Alice. “Perhaps.” In this darker version of Alice in Wonderland, Švankmajer accurately reads Lewis Carroll’s classic as a dream, not a fairy tale. If anything, it’s a nightmare, but most of the familiar characters are present: the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the Queen and her court, and the Mad Hatter. Without Alice’s thorough narration, some characters would be hard to discern. Shot largely in stop-motion, the animals are all taxidermied, some with skulls for heads, and Alice, while at first played by a real girl (Kristýna Kohoutová), shrinks to become a stop-motion doll. Švankmajer takes further liberties with the plot. The rabbit hole is a series of drawers, the White Rabbit is quite a bit more violent, and there’s no hookah or pepper soup. Some scenes have no connection to the original Wonderland. A roomful of worms made of socks bores holes in the floor. The cut-out croquet flamingoes turn into live chickens. There certainly aren’t any skulls, scissors or cans full of live cockroaches in Carroll’s original. But these images, like Carroll’s “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” riddle, will probably induce mad giggling rather than head scratching. As the 17th cinematic adaptation of Carroll’s story, the changes are a relief, especially given Švankmajer’s unique style and consistency of vision. Sounds are often disconnected from their sources, and when they’re not, they are distinctly out of proportion, whether the White Rabbit’s chattering teeth or the creaking floorboards. Paired with the endless visual clutter of dusty memorabilia and half-eaten food, watching Alice has the same effect as accidentally inhaling fungal spores alone at an abandoned foreign museum. I can’t help but agree with Alice: “I think it worked quite well, though not as I’d expected.”

Special Note

NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 7:30 pm Saturday and 5 pm Sunday, Jan. 19-20
  • Running Time:
  • Release Date: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
  • Critic's Score: A
  • Watch the trailer

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