Opening in a determinedly familiar contemporary milieu - a man emerging from a crowded Prague subway is handed a map - this film by the Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer soon moves into stranger, darker territory. The man visits the spot on the map marked 'X' - a courtyard and a theatre dressing-room complete with costumes, make-up and a copy of Goethe's Faust. Reading the book, he becomes embroiled in a world of obscure spells, alchemy and deals with the Devil. On to this the director grafts a wealth of themes, motifs, allusions and gags, his method an expertly executed, profoundly imaginative combination of live action, claymation, puppet theatre, stop-motion animation and special effects. There are a couple of dramatically flat moments, when one feels Svankmajer hasn't quite got the measure of the feature-length narrative, but for the most part this is a film which galvanises the mind and astonishes the eye. In a word, magic.
Cast and crew