234. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (2015)

“When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.”–John 6:12

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DIRECTED BY:  Guy Maddin,

FEATURING: , Clara Furey, Victor Andres Turgeon-Trelles, Caroline Dhavernas, Paul Ahmarani, Noel Burton, , , , Roy Dupuis

PLOT: A lumberjack inexplicably appears inside a doomed submarine. While searching for their captain one of the crew shares the wayward lumberjack’s story and several more strange tales. Before and after the main narrative (such as it is), a man lectures on how to take a bath.

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BACKGROUND:

  • While researching Hollywood’s lost films, Guy Maddin learned that approximately 80% of silent films made have been lost; many are preserved in title only. Maddin became obsessed with the idea that there were all these films he would never be able to see. This obsession turned into an ongoing four year long project producing re-imagined versions of these forgotten treasures. It began as an installation where Maddin and Johnson shot a movie a day in public. Some of what was shot became The Forbidden Room; the rest will become an interactive project that the NFB (National Film Board) will host called “Seances.”
  • The title The Forbidden Room is itself taken from a lost film from 1914.
  • Co-director Evan Johnson was a former student of Maddin’s who was originally hired simply to do research, but his contributions to the project became so significant that Maddin felt he deserved a co-director credit.
  • The opening and closing segments are based on the title of a lost film called “How to Take a Bath,” made by none other than Maniac‘s .
  • The Forbidden Room won 366 Weird Movies’ readers poll for Weirdest Movie and Weirdest Scene of 2015.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An indelible image in The Forbidden Room? The entire film is a collage of indelible images. Candidates include lumberjack suddenly appearing in a submarine, a sauntering lobotomized Udo Kier ogling ladies’ derrieres, insurance-defrauding female skeletons in poisonous leotards.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Offal piling contest; talking blackened bananas; squid thief

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Forbidden Room is a collection of strange stories about bizarre characters weaved through a central plot involving a lumberjack attempting to rescue a kidnapped woman. The catalyst for this storytelling begins when the lumberjack suddenly appears on a submarine. Add a healthy dose of surreal, humorous imagery and some creative editing and shake well for a truly one-of-a-kind cocktail of weirdness.


Original trailer for The Forbidden Room

COMMENTS: The Forbidden Room opens with Louis Negin in a satin robe offering tips on bathing. These tips segue into men trapped on a submarine. “Four men forty fathoms deep, frightened, wonder at their fate. Their breath in retreat, their doom mere moments away.” Explosive jelly threatens to blow them to smithereens if the submarine surfaces, and they only have two days of oxygen! They must locate their captain to report the danger. The men vigorously consume flapjacks along the way, believing the air pockets will help keep them alive longer. Suddenly a lumberjack named Cesare appears. From here our story twists and turns and makes several unrelated diversions. There are numerous stories told throughout The Forbidden Room. The film goes back and forth between plots, regularly updating us on the fate of our lumberjack and the crew of the submarine.

Every single one of the entertaining stories in The Forbidden Room deserves to be mentioned. Lumberjack Cesare is on a mission to save the beautiful Margot who has been kidnapped by bandits named “the Red Wolves.” Margot is a complicated woman loved by many men. She dreams she is an amnesiac, a flower girl and a singer. She also dreams of Aswang, talking blackened bananas, and of being sacrificed to angry volcano gods. Can brave Cesare save Margot? Meanwhile, Baron Pappenheim unknowingly hires the still shackled escaped prisoner Bent as his gardener. Young rebellious biker Gong’s body is reconstructed by bone surgeon Dr. Deng after a near fatal crash; the two fall in love. We take a train trip with Dr. Deane and his caged patient. Deane seduces passenger Florence and introduces her to her inner child with dire consequences. Lost-generation attorney and hard drinker Eve’s plane crashes on an island just as Margot is about to be sacrificed to a volcano. A squid thief runs for his life. Eve is accused of the Squid Thief’s murder. Dr. Deng is embroiled in an insurance fraud scandal involving a shady broker and women in poisonous skeleton leotards. Dr. Deng’s brother Xiao saves a distraught Gong after a second bike crash; the two fall in love. Thadeusz forgets his wife’s birthday and constructs a ridiculous and elaborate plot that results in the murder of his manservant. His manservant, meanwhile, has constructed a ridiculous and elaborate plot of his own to leave his blind wife. Dr. Warren writes his memoirs and relates the story of his obsession with a Janus bust. A man gives his dying mother’s medication to a junkie he falls in love with on sight. Cesare meets three brave men who agree to help him save Margot, but who then chicken out at the last minute. Back on the submarine the men find their captain and Cesare finds “The Book of Climaxes.” We end with one more bathing tip and Louis Negin’s final words; “Have a nice day.”

To say The Forbidden Room does not follow a conventional narrative is a grand understatement. The film was pieced together from multiple short films compiled for a National Film Board of Canada project, so the editing must have been a chore. The swirling water of a tub and a Polaroid picture, among other devices, become segues connecting one story to the other. Maddin loves to use film techniques from the past, particularly the silent and early talkie periods; The Forbidden Room is no exception. There were three art directors on set, and the film is indeed a work of art: dissolves, color filters and Vaseline are employed to make everything look pretty. Maddin has a unique vision, but it is his sense of humor that I find most appealing. The Forbidden Room made me laugh regularly and heartily. One of my favorite moments is in “the dead father” segment featuring Udo Kier as a guilty husband who can’t seem to bring himself to leave his blind wife. So he records his voice saying “yes”, “no”, “maybe” which his son plays on a phonograph at the appropriate moments. I told a friend about this scene and was met with a long pause and no further comment. I guess it doesn’t translate well, but it made me laugh for days afterwards when I thought about it. The quirky characters are well represented by top drawer performances, particularly from the aforementioned Udo Kier, Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Mathieu Amalric, and Maddin regular Louis Negin.

This is my fifth viewing of The Forbidden Room, which I was fortunate enough to see at the beautiful Vancity Theatre in Vancouver B.C. (Canada) last October. I loved the film so much I pre-ordered it on both Blu-ray and iTunes. I have been a fan of Guy Maddin’s work since the late eighties and have seen nearly every one of his feature length films in a theater. The man is a Canadian national treasure. As much as I love The Forbidden Room, it might be his least accessible outing. It is a lengthy strange trip, worth taking if you are prepared for the ride. Fans like myself should love it; it includes everything that makes Guy Maddin’s work so special and spectacular, times ten! I read multiple reviews which said if they had a criticism it would be that the film was “too much of a good thing.” Frankly, I’ve never understood that expression.

G. Smalley adds: The stories in The Forbidden Room backtrack, and then lurch forward in new directions, and by the end the entire Chinese puzzle box telescopes in reverse, backtracking through the labyrinth of stories and ending up where it began, with a wrinkled swinger in a bathrobe extolling the virtues of a good scrubbing. The movie is a tour-de-force summation of Guy Maddin’s evolution-through-regression style. As suggested by the opening epigram, disunity and fragmentation are the themes here. The lack of a strong central theme may be a slight weakness here that holds Room back from being one of Maddin’s top-rank masterpieces (compare the single-minded autobiographical obsessiveness of Cowards Bend the Knee or My Winnipeg, or the Freudian hysteria of Careful ). Yet, the film overwhelms us with shameless excessiveness, hidden treasures, visual marvels, and Maddin’s subconscious wit. It is the master’s most unabashedly surreal picture in some time.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This nonsensical labyrinth of variously purple, archaic and absurd tales naturally incorporates numerous cineaste in-jokes… ‘The Forbidden Room’ may be too much of a good thing, but there is no question that Maddin’s bag of tricks — so essentially little-changed since his feature debut with ‘Tales from the Gimli Hospital’ nearly 30 years ago — is, indeed, something good.”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (contemporaneous)

“What narrative momentum there is has the choppy feel of unrelated serials crudely stitched together into a chaotic assemblage that operates, like all Mr. Maddin’s work, on hallucinatory dream logic. As a viewer you can supply whatever subtext comes to mind.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

The Forbidden Room is weird, esoteric, and probably not the ideal entry point for curious moviegoers who have not yet experienced the glory of a Guy Maddin film for themselves.”–Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)

OFFICIAL SITE:

The Forbidden Room – A treasure trove of supplements including stills, the trailer, a Guy Maddin/Evan Johnson video interview, and a link to the press kit

The Forbidden Room – Kino Lorber – The American distributor’s page has most of the same content as the official site above, with a few different graphics including the American theatrical release poster

IMDB LINK: The Forbidden Room (2015)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Sparks – The Final Derriere – The “music video” portion of The Forbidden Room, written and performed by Sparks, which won our readers’ poll for Weirdest Scene of 2015

Lost in the Funhouse: A Conversation with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson on The Forbidden Room and Other Stories – A long and involved discussion with Maddin and Johnson conducted by Mark Peranson for CinemaScope

Guy Maddin on The Forbidden Room and Writing Melodrama – Maddin discusses The Forbidden Room for a writing blog

Guy Maddin to Shoot 12 Films in 13 Days in Montreal – The National Film Board of Canada’s 2013 announcement of the “Seances” project that led to the feature film The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room — a living poster – A short promotional video by production designer Galen Johnson

Goregirl’s Dungeon – Posts Tagged ‘The Forbidden Room’ – More stills from the film

LIST CANDIDATE: THE FORBIDDEN ROOM – This site’s initial review, written during the film’s festival run

DVD INFO: In Canada the Blu-ray disc is distributed by Mongrel Media (buy), and includes four fabulous postcards, audio commentary with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, some very nifty “Living Posters,” the theatrical trailer, and two avant-garde shorts: the 90-minute “Endless Ectoloops” and “Once a Chicken,” a seance with Lazslo Moholy-Nagy that lasts nearly 7 minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed Maddin’s commentary (he is an entertaining guy). The postcards and living posters were also a nice touch. I thought the two shorts were mediocre, however. At the end of the day it is about the film itself, though, and the picture quality and sound were fantastic, making this one well worth owning.

The Forbidden Room Blu-ray
Mongrel Media’s Canadian Blu-ray

In the U.S., the DVD (buy) and Blu-ray (buy) are distributed by Kino Lorber. The video features appear to be exactly the same as the Canadian counterpart. As far as we can tell, the packaging features a different cover and includes a booklet rather than Mongrel’s postcards, but otherwise the two releases appear identical.

The film is also available on-demand (rent or buy).

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