Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor
“An insurance office like no other.” “Woman Skeletons!” “Eve is arrested for murder and squid theft.”
These are a select few of the silent movie-esque title cards that appear throughout Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room: a nightmarish Russian nesting doll of genres that ranges from horror to humor, and includes a complete story change. Educational videos turn to disaster pictures which turn to dreams in what feels almost like an arthouse take on last year’s Adult Swim hit, Too Many Cooks. The likes of Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, Udo Kier and more show up to guide the audience through the madness Maddin has concocted. Followers of the Canadian director will certainly be pleased, and those who aren’t fans yet will either walk out or stay and happily join their ranks.
So what’s it really about? Really, the better question is what isn’t it about? The movie starts off in an educational video about taking baths, but quickly disappears down the bathtub to find a submarine voyage plagued by explosives. A stranger appears somehow on the ship telling of how he and his fellow lumberjacks traveled to rescue one of their women from some human wolves. Then the film delves into that woman’s dreams, and that’s when things start to get insane.
Maddin (best known for his fictional documentary My Winnipeg) has always been fascinated by recreating the look (although he shoots digitally here you’d never know it) and feel of old Hollywood. Along with constantly shifting stories the film practically changes shape, corroding at the edges and changing colors. Evan Johnson, the co-director, also conjures up the incredible visual effects that make up most of the backgrounds of these fantastical stories. The look of the film is both derivative of a million things and yet because of that is completely unique. The cinematographers Benjamin Kasulke and Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron knock it out of the park as well.
The film certainly won’t be for everyone; Maddin’s wild experimental filmmaking has never tried to be. But those that find the humor in his stories will be in love, even if the film runs longer than most of his (and really feels it in the middle). Still, who could really hate a movie where they see the dreams of a man’s moustache hairs? What’s wonderful about The Forbidden Room is that a moment like that doesn’t even seem that strange.
Overall Grade: B+
The Harvard Film Archive is currently showing a number of Maddin’s features and shorts, culminating with a screening of The Forbidden Room with Maddin in attendance on November 14th.