65th Berlinale Review: ‘The Forbidden Room’

Directed by Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson
Starring Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Mathieu Amalric, Paul Ahmarani, Géraldine Chaplin, Udo Kier, Sophie Desmarais, Charlotte Rampling, Karine Vanasse, Jacques Nolot, Amira Casar and Caroline Dhavernas

Now Playing in Berlin, Germany at the 65th Annual Berlinale

Sometimes, trying to break down a Guy Maddin film is like trying to exist inside the fourth stage of ‘Inception‘ (of which, this film’s spiralized story structure is reminiscent), the surroundings are familiar yet the sum of its parts may not be.  The famed Manitoban Director of such cult, arthouse fare as ‘Tales from the Gimli Hospital,’ ‘Twilight of the Ice Nymphs,’ and (personal favorite) ‘The Saddest Music in the World‘ gave the 2015 Berlinale a cerebral return to form with his homage to the lost film’s of the silent era, ‘The Forbidden Room.‘  Co-directed by the film’s visual effects supervisor (of which, are unlike any most “mainstream” audiences may ever see) Evan Johnson, ‘The Forbidden Room‘ features a cache of the usual Maddin cinematic elements, wonderfully hybridized in a ethereal onslaught; multiple film stocks, non-linear storylines, absurdist humor verging on the shtick, as well as some of the richest, ever-morphing color palettes committed to the screen.

Summarizing ‘The Forbidden Room’ may be impossible but, for the sake of argument, it centers around a seemingly doomed submarine (think of something from 1916’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea‘) with its crew of 4 desperately trying to conserve their air supply via platefuls of particularly flimsy flapjacks. Suddenly, and from out of nowhere, a bearded lumberjack arrives on board (!) desperate to scower the Earth for his lost love, Margot. From here, the film becomes a collection of pre-talkie fairytales, edited into a mish-mash of color, genre, sound, and (sentence) image.  There are musical numbers dedicated to the derriere, giant exploding brains, dreaming volcanos, clan of the cave bear-esque eroticism, and a squid mouthed loner featured between the bookends of the silk-gowned Marv’s gleefully monotone instructions on the importance of bathing, even if more often than just on Saturday.

With ‘The Forbidden Room‘ the juxtaposition of silent era motif and contemporary technology manage to ascertain a certain fluidity to its highly fragmented narrative.  One is wholly aware they are watching a film produced in 2015, yet nostalgic enough to recognize the familiarity of expression as simple as a twinkle-eyed gaze.  That is not to say the film is necessarily “accessible” but, its emotional familiarity is not entirely “experimental” either.

The Forbidden Room,’ also features game cast including the likes of Mathieu Amalric, Maria de Medeiros, Charlotte Rampling and, Maddin regular, Udo Kier, who bring the electrocuted opus through island to dreamscape, musical to slapstick, underwater to cave dwelling, in a kaleidoscopic explosion of delirium.  ‘The Forbidden Room‘ plays to the spectrum of sense while creating an epic throwback, albeit distinctly grounded in the now.

– Steve Rickinson

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