Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room is many things: a work of art that’s a feast for the eyes (though whether you manage to find any deep meaning in it or not is another matter); a trippy, effects-heavy paean to silent cinema and decaying film; an homage to cheesy 1950’s horror that fondly brings to mind Troma’s 1980’s heyday as much as the earlier, original works; a bizarre mix of the pronounced styles of other directors (Jenuet, Lynch, Dreyer and many more); a dream from which the lucid viewer can extract moments of sense and humour; and a series of increasingly-unsettling nested stories that seem to get ever darker and weirder. It was made alongside Maddin’s art installation Seances, which – as with The Forbidden Room – is a collection of short tales featuring a large number of actors, though the two projects are otherwise separate. These stories are surreal, and often funny: an old man gives tips on how to take a bath correctly; a submarine crew is running out of air and unable to find a way off the vessel; a group of apprentice lumberjacks try to rescue the woman they all love from the clutches of a tribe of wolf-men; a surgeon falls in love with a motorbike rider before being kidnapped by a crack team of women dressed in toxic skeleton outfits; a madman escapes from a cage on a train; a vaudeville performer sings a song about a man who is obsessed with derrières; and this is really just the tip of the iceberg. It’s hard to pick out themes that unify these stories and the various segments, but they bleed into one another well enough and it’s possible that Maddin wishes for us to look elsewhere for connective tissue; for example several of the actresses – such as Ariane Labed, Clara Furey and Sophie Desmarais – have similar physical characteristics, while plenty of consistency is ensured by the tone and look of the film. Burnt reds and yellows combine throughout with lurid greens and purples, and the special effects range from the psychedelic – as images morph into one another – to the fetishistic, with the crackles, dust and other defects of aged analogue film in particular being celebrated. Co-director Evan Johnson has made a fascinating array of silent era-style title cards and intertitles, too, which employ a range of different fonts and designs. I’m not sure quite what to make of it all, but it was fun and visually stimulating even though it’s a little too busy at times. Credit must go to the editor John Gurdebeke for ensuring it flows as well as it does.
Directed by: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson.
Written by: Evan Johnson, Guy Maddin, Robert Kotyk, John Ashbery.
Starring: Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Udo Kier, Gregory Hlady, Karine Vanasse, Charlotte Rampling, Mathieu Amalric, Geraldine Chaplin, Noel Burton, Maria de Medeiros, Sophie Desmarais, Ariane Labed.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kasulke, Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron.
Editing: John Gurdebeke.
Music: Galen Johnson, Guy Maddin, Jason Staczek.
Running Time: 119.