Little Otik

In a contemporary Czech city, an ordinary couple is desperately trying to have a baby, despite their own stubborn biology. In a lighthearted effort to cheer up his wife, the husband, a wood-carving hobbyist, fashions a baby out of an uprooted tree stump. To his dismay, his wife, whose sanity had apparently long been on the breaking point, starts treating the chunk of wood as if it were their actual child!

What starts out as a dryly humorous look at modern parenthood suddenly becomes a 21st-century Eraserhead when their "baby" comes to life – and monstrously so. The film them shifts into even wilder fairy tale territory, ranking with the grimmest of the Grimm, when the pigtailed girl down the hall gets involved.

Welcome to the darkly humorous – and at times very sick – world of famed Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, whose short films have prefigured, if not outright influenced, the work of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, and scores of stop-motion animators. Over the last decade Svankmajer has concentrated on feature films that are about 90% live action, with pockets of animation often popping up startlingly (and always to great delight), and Little Otik is as good as his best.

I won't give away any more of the film's surprises; I will simply say that it offers not only the darkest laughs of the year (not many people can successfully elicit genuine humor out of an elderly pedophile's obsession with a 12-year-old girl's bottom), but plenty of inspiration as well: you can't help but get caught up in Svankmajer's ceaseless creativity.