Czech surrealist animation filmmaker Jan Svankmajer has a devoted international following, an appeal that may baffle those who, familiar only with his inventive, logic-defying shorts (such as Jabberwocky or The Castle of Otranto), come to Conspirators of Pleasure, a live-action feature subtitled ''A Surreal Orgy.'' It's agreeably witty and bizarre, but patience is required to sustain interest in its intricately oddball, non-verbalized story for nearly an hour-and-a-half. The pleasure alluded to in the title and the orgy of the subtitle are metaphoric and sexual only insofar as they detail the elaborate and obsessive ritualized preparations undertaken by six endearingly ordinary characters in order to achieve solitary periods of fetishistic excitation. Theirs is a highly customized, one-person foreplay and, as with all rituals, fetishism has its forms (objectification and repetition being the basic essentials) and codes (furtiveness and secrecy the givens here). The overriding protocol is that, while such conspiracies involve outrageously imaginative and often baroque kinds of masturbatory activity, the accepted form of communication is psychic radar signaling when a total stranger is into something fiendishly outr. The operative title word is conspiracy and, giving a sly nod to Freud and De Sade as well as Max Ernst, alchemy, puppet theatre and the Czech surrrealist tradition, Svankmajer focuses on sexual perversity as an anarchic threat to social and political order, whose function it is to repress the pleasure principle.

At a newsvendor's shop, a man rifles through a pile of stroke magazines before selecting one. Furtive glances are exchanged as he pays the vendor and scurries home, where he methodically cuts up the nude photos and glues them onto a papier mach rooster head cast from the head of a live rooster decapitated by the buxom, garishly made-up tenant across the hall, who is secretly stitching and stuffing a life-size effigy of him that, when finished, will be whipped and tortured in a clandestine ritual in a crypt. Meanwhile, the newsvendor is busily tranforming a hidden TV set into an electronic sex machine with armatures of vibrating brushes and feathers and fur and sharp objects, strategically placed to stroke and masturbate him as he watches a blonde TV newscaster ( the only voice on the soundtrack) report the evening news. The newscaster has her own secret life involving a pair of toe-sucking carp that are kept in a basin beneath the anchor desk. Unaware of each other's existence, they do manage to climax at the same time, if not actually together. A postmistress makes a delivery then, hiding behind a stairwell, withdraws a loaf of fresh bread from her pouch and frantically pinches the loaf's soft center into dozens of little breadballs, which she will ceremoniously stuff into her nostrils before going to sleep. Awakening, she removes the breadballs and disposes of them, only to have them discovered by the newscaster's husband, who resourcefully feeds them to the carp. A policeman, public defender of law and order, his private fixation involves stripping naked and rubbing himself with stiff-bristled brushes attached to the lids of cooking pots, pleasure temporarily interrupted when he is summoned to investigate the mysterious murder of the buxom, garishly made-up blonde who killed the rooster belonging to the perv across the hall....

And round it goes. Svankmajer prods our irrational zones with these unlikely subversives-trashy, frumpily at ease in their defiantly unbuffed bodies, impassive biscuit faces with suspiciously darting eyes-to remind us that everyone has the potential, the responsibility, to conspire for his/her own pleasure.

--Renfreu Neff