The Forbidden Room




The synopsis contained in the press notes for this film describes it as Guy Maddin’s ultimate epic phantasmagoria. Believe it.


Some people adore this film and others would run a mile to avoid sitting through it. I can understand both viewpoints. When Maddin’s Keyhole was released here in 2012 I declared that those who dislike avant-garde cinema would hate it but that Maddin is the real thing for those who can take it. If that sounds like a warning, it needs to be sounded even more urgently for The Forbidden Room. His originality and artistry are fully evident together this time with intense energy, but I can only take so much of it and, even after being shortened by some twelve minutes, this film runs for almost two hours.

The movie appears to have grown out of an earlier plan to make installation loops featuring a series of recreations of lost films from the silent era but also extending to some early talkies. However, what we have here for cinemas is a single work that nevertheless combines many story threads that intertwine. Some plot lines (one set on a submarine with the crew’s lives in danger and another about seeking a woman who has been kidnapped and suffers from amnesia) are expanded, but all of the tales, often fragmentary, seem to exist not for their own sake but as a blend representing a past age of cinema – one when melodrama flourished alongside horror but had its own innocence. Maddin, working with the assistance of Evan Johnson, crucially adds an inventive layer of colour together with some overtly sensual touches. Even so, and regardless of the use of spoken dialogue, he also includes much that directly emulates silent cinema as in the case of the frequent title cards inserted.


 Forbidden Room


Music is cleverly used and Maddin patently loves the cinematic world that he is at once recreating and elaborating. But of the more famous names in the cast only Mathieu Amalric is featured at any length and the longer the film goes on the more one longs for it to cohere into something more meaningful. Its novelty invigorates for a time, but then the film’s stunning individuality starts to lose its attraction and long before the end I felt that I had had enough. However, there is no other film like it and Maddin enthusiasts could even regard it as his masterpiece.    


MANSEL STIMPSON               


Cast: Louis Negin, Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Mathieu Amalric, Elina Löwensohn, Charlotte Rampling, Udo Keir, Geraldine Chaplin, Maria de Medeiros, Jean-François Stévenin, Ariane Labed, Adèle Haenel.

Dir Guy Maddin with Evan Johnson, Pro Phyllis Laing, Maddin, Phoebe Greenberg and David Chistensen, Screenplay Maddin, Johnson and Robert Kotyk etc., Ph Stéphanie Weber-Biron, Pro Des Galen Johnson, Ed John Gurdebeke, Costumes Yso South, Élodie Mard and Julie Charland.

Phi Films/Buffalo Gal Pictures/National Film Board of Canada-Soda Pictures.
119 mins. Canada/France. 2015. Rel: 11 December 2015. Cert. 12A.