The Forbidden Room (2015, Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson)

Stories don’t just lead into each other like in The Saragossa Manuscript – they melt and morph into each other, thanks to codirector Evan Johnson’s digital manipulations, which don’t replace Maddin’s usual bag of tricks, but join the choppy editing and texture fetish and everything else. Some of his early movies had somnambulist rhythms, but this one is ecstatic from start to finish.

Had to watch this a couple times before I could report in.

Second time through, I noted the order of stories:

How to Take a Bath, with Louis Negin

Submarine: Blasting Jelly and Flapjacks

Starring Negin again with Ukranian Greg Hlady, panicky Alex Bisping, Andre the Giant-reminiscent Kent McQuaid, and mysteriously-appearing woodsman Cesare (Roy Dupuis of Mesrine and Screamers).

M. Sicinski:

Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.

Cowardly Saplingjacks

Cesare sets out to rescue the kidnapped Margo (Clara Furey)

Cave of the Red Wolves

with lead wolf Noel Burton, bladder slapping and boggling puzzlements!

Amnesiac Singing Flowergirl

Margo again, with mysterious necklace woman Marie Brassard (sinister Jackie from Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and patient Pancho (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon)

The Final Derriere

with Sparks, Udo Kier (returning from Keyhole) as a man plagued by bottoms, Master Passion Geraldine Chaplin, and the Lust Specialist (Le Havre star Andre Wilms)

Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine

Quick return.

Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice

With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)

D. Ehrlich:

The Forbidden Room may (or may not) be inventing narratives from thin air, but whatever history these abandoned projects might have had is completely supplanted by the present Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) invents for them. These stories belong to him now. The Forbidden Room may forego the hypnotically autobiographical thrust of recent efforts like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, but it feels no less personal for it.

Mill Seeks Gardener

With shed-sleeper Slimane Dazi and unpredictable runaway Jacques Nolot

Injured Motorcyclist at Bone Hospital

Caroline Dhavernas and Paul Ahmarani

Doctor kidnapped by skeleton insurance defrauders

Lewis Furey (Margo’s father IRL) as The Skull-Faced Man, and Eric Robidoux as the bone doctor’s long-lost brother who is also a bone doctor.

Psychiatrist and madman aboard train

Gregory Hlady again, Romano Orzari again, and Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Florence LaBadie

Florence’s Inner Child

Sienna Mazzone as young Florence with crazy mother Kathia Rock

Parental Neglect / Madness / Murder / Amnesia

Bone Hospital / Insurance Defrauders
Mill / Criminal / Doctor
Volcanic Island / Squid Theft / Submarine / Bath

“I haven’t finished telling you: the forest… the snow… the convict… the birthday”

Woodsman Gathers New Allies

Kyle Gatehouse as Man With Upturned Face, Neil Napier as Man With Stones On His Feet and Victor Turgeon again as Listening Man – these are the same actors who played the Saplingjacks earlier, and again they don’t enter the cave with Cesare.

Margo and Aswang The Vampire

M. D’Angelo:

The Forbidden Room was shot mostly at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, piecemeal, in front of a live audience, following which Maddin and Johnson artfully distressed the digital footage and added priceless intertitles. The project took advantage of whichever actors were available to it on a given day.

Elevator Man Unprepared For Wife’s Birthday Kills His Butler

All-star segment with Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier and Amira Casar (Anatomy of Hell, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).

D. Ehrlich:

[Amalric] gleefully indulges in Maddin’s pure and peerlessly florid sense of melodrama, which here becomes a mechanism for foolhardy and paranoid men to ruin their lives as they attempt to rescue, love, or murder the beautiful women who didn’t ask for their help.

Dead Butler Oedipal Mustache Flashback

Maybe my favorite segment, with Maria de Medeiros (Saddest Music in the World) as the Blind Mother and more mentions of flapjacks.

Ukranian Radio War Drama

With Stranger by the Lake star Christophe Paou as the prisoner

Mustache / Return of the Dead Father

Diplomat Memoirs of Cursed Janus-Head

M. Peranson:

Together, Maddin and Johnson have crafted a formal masterwork jolted by digital after effects, recreating the look of decaying nitrate stock, shape-shifting the image with multiple superimpositions and variegated colour fields (the general look resembling decayed two-strip Technicolor), and compositing swirling transitions that connect (or bury) one film within the other (and the other, and the other). To try and describe “what happens” in The Forbidden Room is both forbidding and beside the point, for the 130-minute film stands more as an interminable, (in)completed object on its own, like the work of one of its main influences, the French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (from whom Maddin and Johnson borrow their technique of parenthetical asides); one comes to understand this object, and what it’s trying to accomplish, only while watching it.

Peranson’s writeup is from the Toronto Film Festival, after which nine minutes got removed from the movie. Since nobody at the festivals was able to exhaustively account for all the stories within stories, it’s impossible to track down what got lost. It seems, though, that any lost footage (and more) can be seen in the Seances.

Andreas Apergis and his fiancee Sophia Desmarais (Curling)

Night Auction Doppelganger

featuring LUG-LUG, hideous impulse incarnate!

Stealing Mother’s Laudanum

Charlotte Rampling as Amalric’s Mother, Ariane Labed (Attenberg, Alps) as his girlfriend.

Maddin (in an essential Cinema Scope interview) on the film’s 2+ hour length:

We could have easily had a 75-minute version … but viewers that like it, we wanted to feel like we’d broken their brains, really left a physical impression on them, left them exhausted. Hopefully exhilarated and exhausted, in a good way. We wanted “too much” to still be insufficient … it would be nice if it came out in one endless ribbon, that, like John Ashbery’s poetry, you just snip off for a beginning and an end, and just ask the audience how much they want.

Dead Father / Elevator Birthday Murder Plot / Margo and Aswang / Woodsmen
Red Wolves are Dead, Rescue is Cancelled
Submarine / The Forbidden Room / Book of Climaxes

Bath.

I Love You Again (1940, W.S. Van Dyke)

It’s been a month since I watched this amnesiac comedy so I’ve forgotten most of it, but IMDB says “Boring businessman recovers from amnesia and discovers he’s really a con man… and loves his soon-to-be-ex wife.” Starring Myrna Loy (with never enough screen time) and William Powell (better at playing amnesia/gangster than he was at playing nuts in Love Crazy).

Besides the love plot, Powell has to keep up appearances in town, running a pottery business and other organizations. It turns into a big swindle with he and his new buddy Frank McHugh (part of Cagney’s company in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) getting the local rich folk to bid against each other for some worthless land on which they’ve planted an oil spill.

I spotted Preston Sturges regular Harry Hayden at the bar in the first scene, then nobody else for the whole rest of the movie, though the children included future Lost Highway creep Robert Blake.

Random Harvest (1942, Mervyn LeRoy)

A high-quality womany drama full of nearly-insane plot points, the kind of thing that Douglas Sirk would be making ten years later. In fact, the title might as well have been Magnificent Obsession, with all the crazed (but ultimately justified) stalking in this movie.

Ronald Colson (of Lost Horizon and Prisoner of Zenda) is in an asylum with no memory of his past. He doesn’t know how he got there, but knows he wants out – takes advantage of WWI victory celebration to escape and meets Paula (crazy-haired Greer Garson of Mrs. Miniver the same year) who helps him get out of town. They fall in love, get married, have a baby. He gets some stories published, goes into the city for a job interview, hit by a car, whammo, his pre-asylum memory returns and he forgets his life with Paula.

Why is there a long, slow zoom into this stuffed dog?

A couple years later he’s a super rich businessman, his precocious niece (Susan Peters), is trying to marry him and Paula is his secretary under a fake name, having found him after the baby died. The niece gives up, and Colman marries Paula his true love instead. But it’s a sham marriage, for social or tax reasons, I forget exactly, and he still doesn’t remember that she’s his true love. Will he overcome his amnesia by the end of the movie and realize that he loves his wife? Yes!

Colson and Greer (afflicted with Crazy Hair):

A TCM Essential, “considered the definitive treatment of amnesia in a romantic film.” Nominated for seven oscars but won none – beaten out by Mrs. Miniver and James Cagney. Katy and I liked it an awful lot.