Tate Modern Film

Jan Švankmajer: Insects

a woman stands in front of an theatre set screen dressed up as an insect

Jan Švankmajer Insects 2018, film still. Courtesy Athanor

Celebrated surrealist filmmaker Jan Švankmajer joins us to present the UK premiere of his final film

Don’t miss this exclusive premiere of legendary Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer’s swan song, Insects, followed by a discussion with the artist. The screening begins with the artist's very first film The Last Trick, in which two magicians try to outdo each other in performing elaborate magic tricks. We then jump 54 years ahead to Švankmajer’s final film, which follows a troupe of amateur actors as they rehearse a production of Czech brothers Karel and Josef Čapek’s 1921 ‘The Insect Play’. The satirical source work imagines a world in which insects behave like humans, and humans behave like insects. In Švankmajer’s film we see the actors’ personal lives slowly blend with the characters they portray.

The Čapek brothers' play ‘The Insect Play‘ is a misanthropic play. My screenplay only extends this misanthropy, as man is more like an insect and this civilization is more like an anthill. One should also remember the message behind Kafka's ‘The Metamorphosis’.
Jan Švankmajer


The Last Trick [Poslední trik pana Schwarcewalldea a pana Edgara] 1964, 35mm, colour, sound, 12 min
Insects [Hmyz] 2018, DCP, colour, sound, 98 min, Czech with English subtitles

The screening is followed by a conversation between Jan Švankmajer and Krzysztof Fijalkowski​, Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Norwich University of the Arts specialising in the history and theory of Surrealism​.

About Jan Švankmajer

Jan Švankmajer (b. 1934, Czechoslovakia) is a filmmaker, writer and artist based in Prague. He is connected with the collective activities of the Czechoslovak surrealist group. He studied stage design and puppetry before beginning to experiment with creative filmmaking techniques at Prague’s Magic Lantern Theatre in the 1960s. The artist has since made seven features including Alice, Faust and Lunacy, and a number of short films, including Jabberwocky. His films often use stop-motion and claymation techniques and combine a surrealist imaginary with black humour. Švankmajer’s works have been influential to a generation of filmmakers including Terry Gilliam and the Brothers Quay.

A collage dung beatle pushes dung around

Jan Švankmajer Insects 2018, film still. Courtesy Athanor

a woman dressed up as an insect waters some fake flowers on stage with a man dressed up as an insect approaching behind her

Jan Švankmajer Insects 2018, film still. Courtesy Athanor

Close up image of a woman with googles on with blood splattered on her face

Jan Švankmajer Insects 2018, film still. Courtesy Athanor

close up of a man wearing googles and a swimming hat

Jan Švankmajer Insects 2018, film still. Courtesy Athanor

Tate Modern

Starr Cinema

London SE1 9TG
Plan your visit

Date & Time

18 May 2018 at 19.00–21.30

Supported by