Even seasoned film critic Sean Axmaker doesn’t know quite what to make of Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) based filmmaker Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room.
All he knows is that on an instinctual and aesthetic (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a sentence) level, he likes it (I think): “Maddin makes no effort to make sense of any of it, or even worry about any kind of dramatic closure. It’s all about the texture, the weirdness, the quality of the cinematic moment. This is not for audiences who demand story and character and narrative logic.”
Predictably some of the audience critics at rottentomatoes.com did not share his, uh, enthusiasm. A “reviewer” who calls himself K Nife Churchkey wrote: “I feel I should review this simply to counteract the acclaim this film has received thus far. This film is an annoying mess …” (The film scored a 95% critical approval rating – 54 critics rated it Fresh, 3 critics went for Rotten)
Another audience reviewer (Kristi Moore, who gave the film two and a half stars) opined: ‘I’ve never done acid but Forbidden Room is what I think it would be like if I ever did”
The thought of viewing it on drugs crossed my mind. I haven’t taken anything stronger than Aspirin for several decades now but Ms. Moore’s comment does remind me of a friend of mine back in the day who claimed he would go to see a movie twice – once to see it stoned and again to see it straight. (He would have loved this film, although whether he would have to see it twice is debatable.)
There is something hallucinatory about the film – a series of unresolved stories flash across the screen – a submarine crew fights to stay alive; a lumberjack attempts to rescue a kidnapped woman; a man murders a servant because he forgot his wife’s birthday (Men! Do not try this at home) – over a dozen tales and all served up like a series of lost silent films so badly scratched and degraded that even the Criterion Collection wouldn’t touch them.
Shot in Montreal and Paris, the film features the cream of French-Canadian (Roy Dupuis, Sophie Desmarais, Caroline Dhavernas) and European talent (filmmaker/actor Mathieu Amalric, the terminally weird Udo Kier, the always intriguing Charlotte Rampling, the enigmatic Maria de Medeiros). all of whom enter the esoteric spirit of the project with freak flags flying.
David Lynch may be an auteur – they would have to think of a whole new five-dollar term to describe Guy Maddin.
And what is this fascination with flapjacks