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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Forbidden Room

Someone once wrote about a novel of Thomas Pynchon's: "It is easier to nail a blob of mercury than to describe this first novel." I feel the same way with Guy Maddin's 2015 film, The Forbidden Room, a phantasmagoria of images that defy summary but is a feast for the senses.

The Forbidden Room acts like a dream, moving from one story thread to the next with little transition. I didn't try to understand it so much as simply live in the moment, enjoying the droll title cards (Maddin's films are usually akin to silent films) and myriad visual effects. One word that keeps repeating is "amnesia," so perhaps the thing that is found in the forbidden room, wherever it is, is memory.

The whole thing begins with a man in a bathrobe (Louis Nagin) telling us how to take a bath. Then we are on a submarine, with four desperate men trying to save themselves. We know we're in for a head trip when they are joined by a saplingjack (an apprentice lumberjack). That then leads to his story, about trying to rescue a woman named Margot from a prehistoric band called the Red Wolves.

On this goes, with the story sometimes looping back on itself. The one I can remember best is when a woman (Caroline Dhavernas) is riding a motorcycle and crashes. She breaks 47 bones, and is taken to a hospital called Bones Oracle. The doctor, who we are told has never taken more than 100 steps from the hospital, brings her back to health and falls in love with her. He is going to meet her by the waterfront and give her an engagement ring, but he's set upon by women dressed as skeletons, who bring him to a man called "The Skull-Faced Man," who tries to make him sign a form to defraud insurance companies. When the doctor resists, he is forced to wear a leotard that absorbs poison from the skeleton women's costumes. Got that?

There are also quotes from the Bible and John Keats and jokes, such as when Nagin asks, "What's the difference between a woman in church and a woman in the bathtub? The woman in church has hope in her soul." There's also a musical sequence called "The Final Derriere" in which a man (Udo Kier) has brain surgery to fix his obsession with butts--"I am plagued by bottoms," he says. Kier will later appear in the movie as a butler who is murdered by his boss (Mathieu Amalric) and his moustache has a dream about saving his family.

All of Maddin's films are true originals, though there is some dialogue. A few people appear that don't seem to do much, like Charlotte Rampling, but I believe we only see her face. She still gets a poster credit, though. So does Geraldine Chaplin, who plays "Madame Lust," who snaps a whip while laughing maniacally.

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