Guy Maddin’s latest a funny Freudian fever dream, mixing melodrama, mother figures and film history
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/10/2015 (2613 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After drawing raves at worldwide festivals, including Sundance and TIFF, Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room has its homecoming this week at Cinematheque.
The Winnipeg auteur’s latest psycho-fantasia is as avant-garde as all get out but also enchantingly watchable, packed with strapping woodsmen, mad doctors, femmes fatales, angry volcanoes, doomed submarines and all manner of “boggling puzzlements.” The 59-year-old Maddin, along with co-director Evan Johnson and writing collaborator Robert Kotyk, mix high art — and high anxiety — with unabashedly low comedy.
Don’t expect even a semblance of conventional narrative — never much of a thing in Maddin’s work, but here tossed right out the window. Instead there are proliferating narratives, spreading out and overflowing in a delightful delirium of fever imagery. The rapidly multiplying characters delve down into dreams within dreams, stories within stories and, of course, films within films.
It’s impossible to review a Maddin movie without listing a parade of influences, and The Forbidden Room offers up ardent mash notes to Hitchcock and German Expressionism and film noir and ’30s melodrama and (possibly) early 1980s music videos. Genres slide into each other with lubricious abandon — the submarine adventure, the hospital romance, the creature feature, the tropical-island picture (complete with hot nightclubs, virgin sacrifices and jaguars). There’s a silent-film slapstick-drunk scene and a jaunty musical number. Even the credit sequences, created by Winnipeg artist Galen Johnson, could stand as a brilliant pop quiz on postmodern cinematic pastiche.
For all the antiquarian shenanigans, this also comes off as a personal piece, with a kind of sideways emotional intimacy sneaking in through the elaborate webs of artifice. Maddin fans will immediately recognize his persistent themes of homosocial bonding and hilarious heterosexual terror.
The taboo tales tremble with erotic neurosis, often played out with cheerfully obscene humour. The film’s many “forbidden rooms” include a forest’s warm, hidden cave, a submarine chamber full of explosive “pink jelly,” a train compartment first seen through an X-ray of a woman’s pelvis, and — oh, you get the idea. A veritable Freud-fest of disappearing fathers and ever-present mothers, the film rides a kinky seesaw of urge and shame – or “Urge!” and “Shame!” as the breathless intertitles proclaim.
Practically sweating with masculine insecurity, it calls up impassive, cruel and all-powerful female archetypes, which are taken to such loony, man-annihilating extremes that they transform into self-aware tropes.
The cast is Maddin’s usual mix of compellingly watchable faces, with many of the actors playing doppelgangers, evil twins, amnesiac alter egos or multiple characters. Along with hometown talents such as Darcy Fehr and Graham Ashmore, there’s a Quebec contingent that includes Clara Furey, Caroline Dhavernas, Karine Vanasse and Roy Dupuis, the magnificent Louis Negin (something of a Maddinesque muse lately), and a roster of such international stars as Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine Chaplin, Udo Kier and Mathieu Amalric.
The Forbidden Room is a hyperbolic, excessive, greedy glut of cinematic images and references. But at the same time, the film itself is constantly threatening to dissolve before our eyes. Evan Johnson has developed techniques to transform digitally shot images into what looks like manhandled vintage celluloid, and the footage is constantly shuddering, stretching, bubbling and boiling up.
The film doesn’t disappear, of course. It just folds into itself, again and again, ultimately transforming into an ecstatic, enclosed, gloriously self-indulgent expression of pure filmic desire.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.