By Tara Judah
I’m a little groggy after just over two hours of what feels like the strangest dream. The last time I recall feeling so completely and comfortably lost in a mire of associative images and sounds (that could easily have come from the deepest recesses of my own brain, only they didn’t) was at the LFF premiere of Brand Upon the Brain! A Remembrance in 12 Chapters (2006). With Guy Maddin, it’s familiar territory: dreamlike, rich cinephilia drenched in Maddin’s own personal paranoia, steeped in myth and always humorous. Entering The Forbidden Room had all these elements – and maybe more. It was like opening a tiny, forgotten, cobweb covered door from Jan Svankmajer’s Alice(1988). What I found on the other side was strange, animated and abandoned. But even in its forgotten, malnourished existence, I was pleased to see that ‘it’ is very much alive.
It’s starts out biblical:
When they were filled, He said to his disciples,
“Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” – John 6:12
And, if we are to take Maddin at his word, then cinema must be God, the audience his disciples and what’s to be gathered up is cinephilia, so that nothing – including the lost fragments of so many films that this film attempts to recreate – will be lost. Ever.
But it’s also a great point of departure. If cleanliness is next to godliness then following up such a quote with instructions on how to bathe makes sense. It also presents us with a pool of water, into which Maddin can submerge us, until we find ourselves at the bottom of the ocean, suddenly shut in: we are in a submarine.
Down below the men are hungry, dirty and afflicted. If only they’d bathed as per the instructions in the intro! But, that is Maddin’s point. Everything that wasn’t attended to – the preservation and protection of film – has resulted in a faux grain and digital reimagining of what once was. What we have lost is next to godliness! Now we must embark upon a grimy adventure, through strange shades of red, and blue, and green, and grey.
There are physical challenges, mental challenges, and even the loss of some brain matter to follow. There are unrelenting dreams, visions, diversions – dreams within dreams, like Inception (2010), only without endless, condescending exposition – a necessary murder of a loyal employee; because letting a loved one down simply isn’t acceptable! Absence, presence, lost and found: it’s a veritable treasure trove, a flea market for the cinephiliac. There are also fleas.
But if all this is Maddin attempting to be a completest – as he says it is – then we must assume that he has eaten that magic cake that made Alice shrink. Tiny against the weight of so much great cinema, still with an appetite to consume it all, of course Maddin can’t help but find himself quashed by its totality! And, searching for that now giant key needed to unlock the door to return to reality, Maddin must take hostages. We join him, in cinephilia, in its celebration, in keeping it alive.
Director: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson
Screenwriter: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk
Cinematography: Stephanie Weber Biron, Ben Kasulke
Cast: Geraldine Chaplin, Caroline Dhavernas, Roy Dupuis, Udo Kier, Charlotte Rampling, Karine Vanasse