Svankmajer is best known as a clay animator, whose works are about as far from dancing raisins as you can get. His short films have foodstuffs evolving into gooey messes and then taking on lives of their own. And his feature "Alice," as in "Alice in Wonderland," is as dark and alienating as it is weirdly fascinating.

With "Faust," Svankmajer, for the first time, relies more heavily on live action, using his animation to merely bolster up specific elements within the film. He begins his tale in modern-day Prague, as a businessman (the late Petr Cepek) is on his way home, and as he exits the subway station, he is handed a strange map. Though he discards it, the map seems to take on a life of its own and later appears in his mail. Eventually, he decides to follow the map, and finds himself led through dark alleyways and dank tunnels into a theater of sorts.

He finds what appears to be a deserted theater dressing room, along with a costume and a book, Goethe's "Faust." He puts on the costume, reads aloud from the book and gradually becomes Faust himself.

For the film's first half-hour or so, he works up his courage to summon up the devil - then, when he does so, the devil takes on Faust's appearance. The result gives the effect of Faust arguing with himself.

Faust does make his pact with the devil, of course - his soul in exchange for worldly power - and the story takes on classical elements for a time as life-size marionettes are employed and the film takes on a theatrical tone.

Bouncing back and forth between a classical era and modern-day settings, blended with his own unique clay-animated creatures and effects, Svankmajer manages to create quite an odd world indeed. And his interpretation of Faust, as one who actually seeks out the devil and eagerly yearns for the exchange, would seem to be at odds with traditional mythology.

Still, all of this could perhaps have been wildly entertaining. But as it is, Svankmajer serves up some very long stretches where the fun gradually dissipates, leaving the proceedings rather artificial and dull.

Fans of Svankmajer will no doubt have some fun with this, but the unfamiliar should not expect to be converted.

Though unrated, "Faust" would doubtless receive a PG-13 for violence and sex, though it is all pretty abstract. There is also some profanity.