The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Czech stop-motion animator Jan Švankmajer’s Kyvadlo, jáma a nadeje is an eerie, powerful live-action adaptation of Poe’s story “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Sweeping back and forth as it descends to his heart, a sharp blade in the form of a clock’s pendulum measures the mortality of a man who is strapped to a table in a dark dungeon, a victim of the Spanish Inquisition.
We never see the heretic’s face. The face of a thickly garbed and hooded cleric we do glimpse, in closeup, before he blows out a candle—an indication of the death sentence that has been dealt the heretic. This is followed by the subterranean journey leading to the torture chamber, a place of fear and dreadful execution. The camera shows the bumpy ceiling of the passageway; the heretic may be flat on his back, being carried to his fate. We hear the moans of the tormented in other rooms. A second closeup is of the heretic’s hand chafing against its confinement. The gears of the torture apparatus break the silence; out of the mouth of a painted skeleton the blade starts its descent.
Another credited source is French symbolist Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, with whose work I am unfamiliar. But the Poe source is completely recognizable, with a few exceptions. For instance, whereas the narrator/protagonist is rescued in the original, here he ingeniously effects his own escape, enlisting the aid of the numerous rats about. Is it a trick of my eye? The animals’ faces, shown in closeup, resemble the face of the hooded monk. The black-and-white camera records the heretic’s flight by showing his scurrying bare feet. Outside, his face covered, a robed figure like that at the outset enfolds the escapee in pitch darkness.
Is there any hope?
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