Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"The ghosts are imposing their memories on the living" as we draw back the curtain to follow Ulysses through the keyhole into his mind. Guy Maddin's latest filmic inquiry into the nature of memory was commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts and personates an enigma.

Keyholes make for curious frames and whenever you look through them, you are gazing at something forbidden, locked away - Santa Claus or the secrets of adults and children at work.

Copy picture

In Maddin's Keyhole, there are gangster ghosts who come from the 30s or 40s, film noirish and unyielding. One of them is a father named Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) and he returns, in Homeric fashion, to his hideout and a family strategically placed in (or dragged into) different rooms. "Many enemies in this house and I am one of them," foreshadows the re-callings inside the claustrophobic interiors.

The film is, unsurprisingly, in black and white, with only a glimpse of a dazzling pink and rose sequined gauze curtain (conceived by Maddin's daughter Jilian, who is a jewelry designer) blowing in from colorful times. We are transported to an imaginary American Weimar, where the figures from paintings by George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Max Beckmann freely mingle with an Orson Welles lookalike and a naked old man (Louis Negin), held hostage by Isabella Rossellini, who plays Hyacinth, the wife of Ulysses.

"There will be no forgiveness, that's why I keep you chained to my bed," she says to her father, the aforementioned old man. And here we are at the nucleus of Keyhole: The absent father.

Ulysses' children, a son named Manners (David Wontner) gagged and self-blinded, and a perpetually drowning daughter named Denny (Brooke Palsson) both have names with a double N in the middle, a phonetically soft voiced sound that stands in stark contrast to their parents' flinty voiceless S sounds.

"It's never too late to love a child," we are enlightened by the ageless, and all-ages encompassing Rossellini who dominates the upper floor of the house filled with mnemonic objects including a shiny toaster, a blanket with stripes and a Nugget shoeshine kit, all evoking smells of the past, which keep the longing for parental affection alive. True West of the spirits. Who can forget the aroma of toast in the morning? "Never trust your eyes, Ulysses, never trust your eyes!" He obeys, and smells a lingerie catalogue from a bygone era and sticks his nose into an urn instead.

Ulysses pulls strings through the keyholes, slender umbilical cords in daydreams or nightdress and undress. A blond Cinderella scrubs the floors and all clocks show midnight without a strike.

Similarly to Freud's story of the father, who had a dream that his child, next to his bed, pulled at his arm to inform him: "Father, don’t you see I’m burning?," every person and object in Keyhole is pulling at your arm, or is it your leg?

When I brought up the taboo subject of Freud in my conversation with Guy, he grinned and said "Maybe I can read him now." After flipping through The Interpretation Of Dreams in a bookstore many years ago, Maddin started interpreting his dreams while dreaming. The filmmaker believes in the irreversible impact of our earliest perceptions, or how he phrased it to me: "We are still standing on those furtive ruins."

Udo Kier (all ways fantastic, always different, from Fassbinder to Lars von Trier and beyond) portrays an unflinching doctor with a handlebar moustache and a sick child of his own, in a mode of naturalism, that is all but comparable to Kafka's naturalism.

Linear adventures, characters of flesh and blood reflected on the silver screen doing things in the great outdoors, can not be found here. To enjoy this kind of adventure, you have to get lost in Guy Maddin's house, because he has made a ghost of a film - "but a ghost isn't nothing."

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2012
Share this with others on...
A criminal undertakes a surreal and supernatural journey through his own house.
Amazon link

Read more Keyhole reviews:

Owen Van Spall **1/2

Director: Guy Maddin

Writer: Guy Maddin, George Toles

Starring: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Brooke Palsson, Kevin McDonald

Year: 2011

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Canada


BIFF 2012

Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Saddest Music In The World