Guy Maddin claims he has “finally figured it out, this filmmaking business.” The writer and director has made eleven feature-length films but it is his latest, The Forbidden Room, that seems to have brought a long, diverse career to an ecstatic high. Will this be the exhausted but triumphant hilt he has perhaps longed for? It seems not. Maddin doesn’t show any signs of pausing, and with an interactive online piece with The Forbidden Room co-director Evan Johnson emerging in early 2016, the Canadian’s reputation for the fantastically obscure looks to only grow.
Since The Artist in 2011, speculation over whether silent movies were making a comeback has been diminished. No one could have foreseen the film’s huge success, and especially nobody could have believed that in a world where cinema is constantly evolving, it would turn back the clock some eighty years, seemingly leaving behind the advances that have been achieved. The Artist wasn’t original enough to spark a renaissance of the silent movie, and if it is to be revived now, in the twenty-first century, then it still needs to feel current. Maddin and Johnson have carried this on their backs to the top of Everest and made massive camp with it.
The team worked together to find lost bodies of work from the silent and talkie era, and from this Maddin shot his own versions, “as if he were interpreting holy texts.” This is a wonderful ode to a tragedy that befell many film-makers, that of being forgotten, which evidently formed the very foundations of The Forbidden Room and shapes the thick of the narrative.
It’s crucial to go into this ‘cinematic experience’ with a very open mind. It’s not perverse (there’s only so much you can do with a 12A rating) but it often feels very unsettling and there’s a constant expectation of the macabre. A prologue detailing how one should take a bath is followed by a submarine in the depths of the ocean with a crew, starting to face their doom. They chew flapjacks in an attempt to prolong their oxygen (tiny pockets of air within the treat, of course) before a woodsman climbs in, telling his tale of finding and fighting for his love in a cave of animalistic cave dwellers. There’s a persistency in scenes drastically and surreally changing from this point on. The various storylines are rarely cohesive but return to quite a few of the same characters, and actors, though often to play different roles. There are even brief appearances from a few superstars including Mathieu Amalric, Geraldine Chaplin and Charlotte Rampling.
The visuals are just spectacular. The camera work is gritty, achingly bright and always frantic. One memorable scene sees a man ‘treated’ for his addiction to bottoms through an almost cartoonish, but graphic, lobotomy. Don’t worry though, your twelve-year-olds won’t be too scarred for life – “Derriere!” is sung through the screens and it feels like the best musical ever. Another typically surreal segment follows a recently deceased, heavily moustached man ensuring his blind wife doesn’t find out by giving his young son a hairy upper lip for her to stroke.
The Forbidden Room is bonkers. It is completely off-the-wall but also entirely tongue-in-cheek. At no point does it take itself too seriously and that, among many other things, is what makes it such a piece of genius. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it should be viewed by everyone at least once, with absolutely no distractions.
Words by Samuel Sims