Like a foreign lucky bag, you just don’t know what you’re getting with Guy Maddin’s latest feature The Forbidden Room. It looks like sweets and tastes like sweets, but it sure as Hell isn’t anything I’ve tasted before. The flavours are nostalgic and even peppered with undercurrents we might recognise, but altogether this is a new and alien experience. Co-directed with Evan Johnson, Maddin’s latest project is a celebration of the lost films of the silent era, traversing the globe, human history, and cinematic genre to deliver a stupendous, if near-indecipherable, adventure.
The visuals are raw and vibrant in all they address, carefully curated from some Hellish Silent-era scrapbook, re-enacted in a kind of haphazard garage movie way, and presented to us in an almost dangerous fashion. The Forbidden Room feels like the weight of its visuals, and the layers of brutal editing on top, might burst the very banks of the screen they are shown on, threatening to shower the audience with an array of colourful and senseless characters. A dreaming volcano, a group of submariners huffing crumpets for air, a never-seen-before woodsman, all beaten perhaps by a man- whose face has been scratched from the negative- singing a gorgeous number about derrieres. It’s all hauntingly comic.
A beautiful cast of fascinating performers has been selected with care to facilitate The Forbidden Room’s spiralling narrative. Mathieu Amalric, Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, to name but a few, are all superb, dancing their way through a film more like a forest fire than a film. Maddin regular Louis Negin and Udo Kier are a particular blast, seeming ever-so-slightly more in-touch with the humour of the roles whilst engaging with untouched charisma. Only with a cast like this could you expect an audience be enthralled by the memories of a moustache or a guide to bathing.
As the story moves from distraction to distraction, forcing the viewer to lose their way in the labyrinthine mess of its crossed wires, The Forbidden Room, as a title, becomes our only point of reference. Our only guiding strand is the idea that this is a film and thus must make sense. To enjoy Maddin’s latest you have to let go and accept that this is a very particular type of adventure, made more for the enjoyment of its individual components than the outcome of a master narrative.
A fascinating and hilariously madcap piece of film stuffed with nonsensical ideas. The Forbidden Room is a mind-melting feat of visual storytelling and performance.
Dir. Guy Maddin
Stars. Roy Dupuis, Louis Negin, Udo Kier, Mathieu Amalric, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlotte Rampling