The Forbidden Room


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Forbidden Room
"What is quite wonderful in all this flowing and "fade, fade, fade," fading is that the characters and their stories belong to no one specifically. They belong to a cinematic spirit world and maybe nobody even wanted them." | Photo: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson

At first glance, we might think the bathroom is the forbidden room of The Forbidden Room, as it is for so many dreamers who stage a battle between their desire to keep on sleeping and answering the call. Water links the two first frame narratives, both equally daring in their unpleasantness.

A house one visits in dreams, or movies, can effortlessly contain a variety of landscapes with palm trees, trains or windmills, and Guy Maddin, master of the indoors, has not much use for the sky anyway. In the tale Bluebeard, the murderous husband, does everything to entice his bride to open the forbidden door - by telling her not to and by handing her the key. Maddin and his co-director Evan Johnson show us the dreams that come when the door is not opened and the murderous mystery remains a mystery, thus turning even more pungent and concentrated.

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A man (Louis Negin) wearing a half-open bathrobe, belly sticking out, channeling Hugh Hefner, "today" wants to "discuss baths" with us. Happy to flee his instructions and terrible jokes, we end up under water, trapped in a submarine with a crew that is running out of oxygen, so they inhale the air bubbles in their breakfast flapjacks. They are too frightened to inform the Captain (Noel Burton) of the dire condition because he "hates to be bothered." What follows from this point, is tale after tale of what happens when the mind circles around the forbidden, not-to-be-disturbed spot of presumed authority. A woodsman (Roy Dupuis) miraculously washes up, tangled in wet ivy and algae, inside a closet of the submarine.

Through his tale we (not the crew) escape to the surface, only to be trapped yet again in a cave in Holstein-Schleswig where the Red Wolf (Burton again) and his men live and kidnap women. In a reversal of the actual state in Northern Germany, which is flat as a pancake and by the sea, Maddin's version is a mountainous snow covered wonderland where rough fairy-tale huntsmen roam and come up with things such as "three terrifying tasks": 1. Finger snapping. 2. Offal piling. 3. Stone weighing (to be done with their manhood) 4. Bladder slapping. The abducted woman in the cave is called Margot (Clara Furey), she has amnesia, and the first sounds we hear from a woman in this film are her wolf howls.

Margot's search for her identity as a former flower girl in a variety club with dancing girls pushes us forward in a new strand of the narrative that includes a talent agent, played by Maddin regular Negin, and a Mysterious Necklace Woman (Marie Brassard). As was common in the early days of cinema, the actors' names appear next to their role when they first are introduced. The colours have the look of hand-tinted postcards, dreaming of technicolor, pushing us emotionally backwards in time.

A crooner croons, Geraldine Chaplin as Master Passion throws a devilish grin and on we roll into a new tale of Udo Kier as a man "plagued by bottoms." The Surgeon (André Wilms) operates on his head, removes from his skull what looks like a few layers of pale cold cuts, repeats the procedure three times, because his patient's buttock obsession is so strong, before we circle back to the outer layers of the narrative, the cave, the submarine, the slimy guy and his bathtub.

Coherence is not the objective here. This is a world where squid theft is punishable by death, a volcano needs regular offerings of "sweet tapioca" and a "hip-necklace," as if a blushing, giggling eleven-year-old boy came up with the most naughty sacrifices he could think of. We meet Baron Pappenheim (Slimane Dazi) by the windmill and can't help thinking what fragment of a long lost treasure we are watching. Another amnesiac woman is central in the love story of Gong (Caroline Dhavernas) and Dr. Dang (Paul Ahmarani), with broken bones, ducks crossing the road, a personified Inner Child (Sienna Mazzone), and tumultuous derring-do somewhere between Berlin and Bogota.

What is quite wonderful in all this flowing and "fade, fade, fade," fading is that the characters and their stories belong to no one specifically. They belong to a cinematic spirit world and maybe nobody even wanted them. These cinema orphans wander on, with Guy Maddin resembling the man at the start of the Grimms' tale called How Six Made Their Way In The World, who "had mastered all kinds of skills" and "when the war was over, he was discharged and received three pennies for traveling expenses." The tale, which is related to one even older, told by Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile and published in 1634, speaks about how this discarded soldier assembled an impressive crew of men with very special talents as travel companions.

The Forbidden Room, back in Holstein-Schleswig, pays homage to the tale by teaming up a Listening Man (Victor Andres Turgeon-Trelles), a Man with Stones on His Ankles (Neil Napier) and a Man with Upturned Face (Kyle Gatehouse). What exactly they were looking for, I can't remember, it could have been the smell of bananas or an amnesiac.

Mathieu Amalric joins the dysfunctional family late as Thadeusz M, a man who has the brilliant idea to pretend that he has found stuffed animal trophies identical to his own to give as a gift. It is a rare and strange pleasure to see one character try to fool another one with something so stupid. An effect that happens again when a son plays the dead father (Udo Kier) for his blind mother (Maria de Medeiros). The scenes, which include cutting off the father's mustache and gluing it on the son's face so that the mother can stroke it, are as idiotically brilliant as a dream.

The tale of the Ostler (Amalric) and the Ostler's Mother (Charlotte Rampling) and the appearance of what seem to be two nurses played by Geraldine Chaplin and Adèle Haenel, lead us further and further into the haunted house, passing by women in skeleton costumes and extra doubles and doctors.

The Forbidden Room, one of the highlights of the 53rd New York Film Festival, is the heads to Maddin's Séances tails, which he filmed at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Phi Centre in Montreal as an imagined resurrection of abandoned and lost films from the history of motion pictures. The stories told here and those lost treasures may very well resemble the film's Janus bust, auctioned off and desired by a man and his double.

Michael H Profession: Director, director Yves Montmayeur's latest documentary, The 1000 Eyes of Dr Maddin, won the Venezia Classici Award for Best Documentary on Cinema at this year's Venice International Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 29 Sep 2015
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The Forbidden Room packshot
A submarine crew, a feared pack of forest bandits, a famous surgeon, and a battalion of child soldiers all get more than they bargained for as they wend their way toward progressive ideas on life and love.
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Director: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson

Writer: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk, John Ashbery, Kim Morgan

Starring: Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Udo Kier, Gregory Hlady, Mathieu Amalric, Noel Burton, Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Ahmarani, Caroline Dhavernas, Jacques Nolot, Slimane Dazi, Maria de Medeiros, Charlotte Rampling, Victor Andrés Trelles Turgeon

Year: 2015

Runtime: 130 minutes

Country: Canada

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