The Forbidden Room
THE FORBIDDEN ROOM, fantasy, not rated, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
The visual ingenuity of co-directors Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s trippy film starts with an instruction on how to take a bath before plunging full-tilt into an unforgettable profusion of sights that pay tribute to the movies. Maddin, Johnson, and editor John Gurdebeke have crafted a labyrinthine tale told through a pastiche of fragments of bygone films. It’s a convention Maddin, a celebrated Canadian director, has used in previous films such as 2003’s The Saddest Music in the World and the autobiographical My Winnipeg (2007). He was appointed to the Order of Canada, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors, in 2012.
Maddin recreates the technology of vintage cinema and special effects, including the two-strip Technicolor of early talkies and grainy, faded black-and-white film. It’s as though a brain reared on nothing but movies exploded, raining down old scenes. The disparate story lines — one involves vampiric Aswang bananas — flow dreamlike into one another, starting with four men in a submarine who are desperately trying to stay alive while running out of oxygen, sucking air from the bubbles in their pancake breakfast. Then a woodsman named Cesare (Roy Dupuis) inexplicably appears with a wild tale of escape from cave-dwellers, and the adventure develops, seemingly woven together from bits and pieces of movies long forgotten.
Cesare is searching for his love Margot (Clara Furey), who is being kept prisoner in a cave by someone called the Wolf (Noel Burton). The narrative branches into several threads: A man seeks a cure for his obsession with derrieres; an escaped convict finds work at a windmill, managing to conceal his handcuffs from his employer for years; and a woman escapes from being sacrificed to an active volcano. Despite the ludicrous plot, The Forbidden Room reminds us of the artistry with which old films, especially from the 1920s and ’30s, were made. It features an international cast playing multiple roles, including Charlotte Rampling, the legendary Udo Kier, and Geraldine Chaplin.
Few cinematic stones are left unturned in The Forbidden Room, which blends fantasy, noir, instructional films, horror, silent movies, musicals, and dramas — and it’s all absurdly comic. The Forbidden Room is a kaleidoscopic medley, a mad vision of stitched-together moments of cinematic magic, and a love letter to the movies.
Down the rabbit hole