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The Forbidden Room | Blu-ray Review

The Forbidden Room Blu-ray ReviewCanadian auteur Guy Maddin continues to be something of an acquired taste, at least judging from the domestic box office of his latest, The Forbidden Room, which took in just over 34K after playing in five theaters last October via Kino Lorber. For the first time, Maddin co-directs with Evan Johnson, here making his debut, and it’s one of the idiosyncratic filmmaker’s most masterful works to date, the type of phantasmagoric experience which should have commanded cult following flares at the art-house theater. Maddin’s films are often classified as experimental, even though he’s regurgitating vintage cinematic styles and melting them into his own particular stew, with his latest being a passionate, intoxicating frenzy.

A portly elder named Marv (Louis Negin), hailing somewhere from circa 1970s judging from his outré robe and garish interior designs, instructs us on the history of bathing, and the importance of doing it correctly, like some remnant of a vintage video manual. But from there, as if a passel of acid tabs got soaked into a book of Grimm’s fairy tales, we descend into an amorphous journey that is part delirious dream part insane nightmare, each gyrating segment birthing a new window to another realm before continually looping back to itself, then rippling into new directions. From Marv, we retreat to a group of men caught in some kind of submarine as their oxygen levels are quickly depleted.

Characters begin receiving title cards with the name of the actual actor as a homage to silent cinema traditions. Negin appears again (he factors into in three additional segments under differing guises, as many of the other cast members are also utilized) amongst the men, devising a way to obtain oxygen through air bubbles in their flapjacks. The surprise entrance of another man, Cesare (Roy Dupuis), who has made it to their vessel from some freshwater realm, momentarily disrupts their search for their Captain as they wander from room to room in the submarine. We disappear into another narrative fissure via Cesare, who becomes the leader of a group of ‘saplingjacks,’ men in a snowy wilderness who have designs to rescue the kidnapped beauty, Margot (Clara Furey), who is captive in a cave, held by a tribe of men known as the Red Wolves.

From there, we disappear into Margot’s dream, wherein she wakes as an amnesiac nightclub singer and we drift into a colleague’s song about a man (Udo Kier) obsessed with derrieres, and inflamed by a whiplashing id personification known as The Master Passion (Geraldine Chaplin), which culminates in the afflicted man’s multiple lobotomies. Meanwhile, the beau of dream version Margot becomes a victim of the Aswang, a Filipino vampire (here referred to as a jungle vampire, whose steps become louder the further they are away from their intended victim).

That’s a mere skeleton of the mad odyssey Maddin has concocted, and he’s created a visual palette that pales in comparison to any words or limiting synopsis that could describe it. Maddin certainly isn’t for all tastes, and those unaccustomed to watching and consuming silent cinema will most likely feel baffled. However, Maddin’s films are not themselves examples of silent cinema, and are, rather, akin to how Peter Greenaway’s films often become moving tapestries of visual innovations, telling stories with enhanced detail that lends the material a ‘handcrafted’ sort of feel. Faces become clouds that become ripples of water that pool back into mutating images, and there’s an agility to The Forbidden Room that marks it with a resplendency sometimes lacking in Maddin’s work (2011’s Keyhole felt very much like an item plucked from the dusty recesses of the director’s brain, a realm that’s been mined to better effect ever since his 1988 debut Tales from the Gimli Hospital).

Featuring a host of Canadian and French actors, including bits from Maddin regular Maria de Medeiros, standouts are Mathieu Amalric, Ariane Labed, Jacques Nolot, Amira Casar, Adele Haenel, Christophe Paou, Slimane Dazi, and the always welcome presence of Geraldine Chaplin and Charlotte Rampling. Best of all Maddin utilizes Udo Kier in no less than five of his insane segments, quite memorably as the depraved man “plagued by bottoms” and as the butler who’s memory is recalled via a farewell homage from his razed moustache hairs. The Forbidden Room plays like Kafka through a kaleidoscope, a nightmare fantasy of symphonic proportion, reflecting Maddin’s endlessly beautiful weirdness. As one character cries out prior to a fantastical montage of unforgettable climaxes, the film is indeed a conglomeration of visions, dreams, and madness.

Disc Review:

With its many of its newer auteur driven titles, distributor Kino Lorber invests additional care into the Blu-ray packaging, and thankfully, this Maddin title arrives in fine form with 5.1 surround sound and 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Maddin and Johnson are on hand for available audio commentary, while Maddin and Hilary Weston provide essays for a booklet insert. A trio of other demented bonus features are also worth checking out.

Endless Ectoloops:
Nine minutes of congealed, looping images are included in this extra sequence.

Living Posters:
A two minute segment features various living posters of the title (one which was prominently displayed when the film was programmed during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox).

Once a Chicken:
A seven minute black and white is credited as a séance with Lazslo Moholy-Nagy (the Hungarian painter/photographer died in 1946). Continually shifting and collapsing images endlessly shift in a bustling array of forms.

Final Thoughts:

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, followed by an international berth in Berlin, The Forbidden Room is one of the best theatrical releases of 2015 many didn’t have the chance to experience in the theater. This is the next best thing, and for cineastes, this is not to be missed.

Film Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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