A treasure trove of film prints, largely of silent movies thought long-lost, were discovered buried in Dawson City, but the films weren’t any good – dramas so generic that Morrison has fun editing together scenes from them, changing the source film with every shot and showing how it still coheres. So rather than spotlight the films on their own merit, we follow the fascinating story of Dawson City, its famous former residents and unfamous locals, illustrating this history lesson with clips from the discovered films and others, and showcasing some astounding glass-plate photography from the era under discussion. And of course we’re not limited to the most well-preserved films – different kinds of decay and destruction are discussed and displayed. Dawson City was a primary Canadian gold rush town, so it’s full of sordid and enterprising stories, and he sidetracks into any exciting bit for as long as it takes. Exciting is relative, though – Bill’s into drawing things out, slowing them down to the wavelength of the great Alex Somers (Sigur Rós) score, my favorite yet in a Morrison movie. What could’ve been a one-hour informational PBS special becomes a two-hour feature, and Katy wanted things to move more quickly.
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).
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.
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
Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine
Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice
With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)
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
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).
[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
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
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
I watched this on the eve of this year’s Berlin fest, where Côté has a new film premiering. I’ve seen his Bestiaire but thought I’d check out one of his fictional features as part of the Festifest Quest. Was enjoying this on the level of a Sundancey relationship drama about interesting characters. The movie’s good at creating characters – nobody here seems to have been blandly injected for plot purposes. Longer-than-usual takes, kind of an unusual trajectory without feeling too indie-quirky. Then an ending I didn’t see coming at all. I mean, the movie lets you know it’s coming, sets it up pretty well, but… that’s just not how movies end, so you don’t believe the signs until it’s too late.
Vic+Flo ont vu un barracuda:
Vic is Pierrette Robitaille (of horny-Snow-White movie L’odyssée d’Alice Tremblay), just out of prison, staying at her disabled uncle’s house under the twice-weekly watch of sensitive parole officer Guillaume (Marc-André Grondin of Goon and C.R.A.Z.Y.). Younger Flo (Romane Bohringer of Savage Nights) moves in, is more restless than Vic, frequenting the local bar where she picks up guys. Flo, also an ex-con, is being followed by a sinister couple: Jackie and her mute enforcer, who pay increasingly threatening visits
If this ursine-monikered movie has a true spirit animal, it’s Marie Brassard’s scarily cherubic interloper Jackie, who belongs on any short list of great contemporary villainesses; when she sneers at Vic that “people like me don’t exist in real life,” it’s a taunt that at once solidifies and undermines the parable-like qualities of Cote’s storytelling.
How parole officer Guillaume first appears to Flo:
Won an award in Berlin, where it played with Closed Curtain, Side Effects, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon and big winner Child’s Pose, which I haven’t heard about since. Apparently it’s considered “slow cinema,” though I didn’t find it that slow. Also, I must’ve missed the bear (but not the trap).
I rewatched My Winnipeg in glorious (glorious!) high definition. Great extras on the blu-ray: shorts and an hour-long interview with Maddin. “I liked the idea of leaping from one subject to another with that paranoiac certainty that the two are connected.”
Spanky to the Pier and Back (2008)
Camera slowly spins around a plain white room with wide angle lens, Sinclair passed out in a wheelchair to one side, tuneless doom music on the soundtrack. The second half (at least) is a single take, unusual for fast-cut freak Maddin. Guy says it’s a protest film about the death of a native paraplegic in an emergency room, shot in the style of La Region Centrale.
Only Dream Things (2012)
Mesmerising. Low-framerate, Begotten-processed home movie footage overlaid with dream images, pop songs and swimmy sound effects. The home movies were shot by his older brothers, from “the summers of our lives before anything went wrong.”
The Hall Runner (2014)
“When you’re gone I have no memory.”
Extension on the My Winnipeg bit about rugs that can never be adequately straightened.
Louis Riel for Dinner (2014, Drew Christie)
A girl is alarmed that the duck her dad has cooked for dinner has the head of Winnipeg hero Louis Riel. Animated!
Winnipegiana (2014, Evan Johnson)
“The city blighted by these sickly trees is a city that dreams too much and lives too little.”
A series of wonderful “educational” shorts with a verbose narrator whose scripts only barely make sense. Johnson is Maddin’s codirector of The Forbidden Room.
Since that still wasn’t enough Maddin-on-Winnipeg, I also read the book of the film, with the script, another interview, deleted scenes, rough drafts, photos, scans, collaborator essays and more.
Now, back to worrying over the eleven minutes supposedly cut from The Forbidden Room since its Sundance premiere, and whether they’ll be on the Kino blu-ray out in March.
The Blair Witch School Shooting Elephant Project. Two nerdy kids enjoy making videos for school, videos involving too much sweary violence and too many blatant rip-offs of their favorite movie scenes. Their teacher tries to get them to tone it down, but they keep ramping up, filming a story of two kids (themselves) taking revenge on the Dirties (school bullies). Inevitably, one of the two takes this to the next level, sets up cameras in the school hallways and shoots some guys, while his companion tries to escape the scene.
Owen is the more normal one, crushing on a girl named Chrissy instead of devoting all his time to firing practice and bully identification like his friend Matt (played by director Johnson). There’s a third (never seen?) boy named Jared who’s filming a documentary of Matt & Owen – his presence is sometimes noted but usually not, and he appears to be present during the actual shooting, which was inspired as much by school shootings in the news as cult movies. So our The Dirties is his documentary footage, mixed with the stuff Owen and Matt film, plus their The Dirties uncompleted feature.
Watched this because of the excellent Cinema Scope interview with the director:
Matt is always feeling the camera. And he’s not alone. The concept of always seeing the camera and always feeling like you’re on camera is a very modern problem. And by “problem,” I don’t even necessarily mean that it’s a negative thing — this is just something that we need to consider. Kids these days are always filming themselves and they’re always acting like they’re on TV. Matt is just a guy that has actively put himself on TV 24/7. So he’s always trying to perform. And he can’t break the spell because he’s made this rule for himself of performing.
Johnson believes that realistic performances are paramount, so instead of casting actors for small roles, he performs the movie in public spaces.
All you’re seeing in The Dirties is just a lot of really good acting from people who don’t know that they’re acting. … The closest thing is something like Borat, but we’re not making fun of people here. We’re the stupid ones. I’m always the one who doesn’t know what’s going on. … That old man who walks up when Owen gets hit with a rock is the same kind of example. It’s not even a joke, that moment, it’s simply reality. The old man was just there, and didn’t know what was going on. The joke is on us.
Katy thought this was a boring movie where nothing happens until I told her to treat it not as a movie but as a series of motion photographs. Camera is mostly still, and half the frame is usually a wall – a favorite trick is to shoot only wall and let animals slowly wander into view. Shot at a Quebec zoo, with the occasional custodian and a parade of customers at the very end (plus a taxidermist, some sketch artists, but mostly animals and walls). Côté’s statement in the press notes declares that it can’t be a documentary since it has no subject, but he doesn’t offer what it might be instead. “Something indefinable.”
But where is the salvation between the puppies on YouTube and a boa constrictor’s reproductive cycle narrated in eight chapters? How should one look at an animal (and find a cinematic language specific to this act)? Is it possible to shoot animals other than through the lens of entertainment or for a non-educational purpose? Neither actor nor story catalyzer, cannot an animal be contemplated and filmed simply for what it is? … The immense field of contemplative cinema offers elements of an answer.
Irrfan Khan is Pi, having a quiet day at home when an annoyingly Richard Dreyfuss-looking writer (Rafe Spall, one of the Andys in Hot Fuzz) shows up demanding to be told a story. So Pi starts at the beginning – he is named after a French swimming pool and lives with brother and parents (Tabu, who played Khan’s wife in The Namesake, is his mom) at a zoo, and is interested in religion.
One day the family packs up their zoo and heads off in a ship, which sinks in stormy waters, presumably killing Pi’s whole family. He finds himself on a lifeboat with an injured zebra, an orangutan, a rat, a hyena and a bengal tiger named Richard Parker, but the animals soon eat each other until it’s just Pi and the tiger. He fashions a raft so he can sleep without getting killed, but loses all his food and water due to a leaping whale. Formerly vegetarian, Pi learns to catch and eat fish. Boy and tiger stop on a “carnivorous island,” then get the hell out of there after loading up on edible roots. Finally, land and rescue, though Pi is sad that he never managed to connect with the tiger.
Rafe Spall thinks the whole thing is pretty far-fetched, so Pi gives another version of the story (told, not shown), where the lifeboat survivors were people, including Pi’s mother and a sadistic cook from the boat (Gerard Depardieu), then asks Rafe which story he prefers. The center of the film is just perfect – more colorful and awe-inspiring than a shipwreck story has any right to be.
But the frame story, in which an older Pi, a happily settled vegetarian living in Canada, tells his tale to a white male writer who in the credits is called “The Writer” is both a little cloying and forced and smacks a bit of, dare I say it, colonialist thought. I know that it’s a faithful adaptation from the book, and I know the book’s author is a white male writer, but I personally am just a wee bit tired of the convention in which a representative of The Other relates a tale of profundity to a white dude. Changing it up a little can’t hurt. Hell, a white woman would be less boring. I understand that second-guessing the artist is poor critical practice. But that fact remains that this convention, which was always pretty patronizing to begin with, has ossified into cliché, and the movie suffers for it.
The sweetest end-of-the-world drama. Likeably lopsided Don McKellar (also writer/director) visits his family (opening nostalgia Christmas presents and having a homey diner) claims that he’s comfortable with his plan to spend the (unexplained but universally accepted) apocalypse in six hours alone in his apartment. Don is really super-depressed over the recent death of his wife, ends up helping an increasingly desperate Sandra Oh, who still thinks she can go shopping and catch taxis in the midst of societal breakdown, attempt to reunite with her intense latter-day boyfriend. This is probably David Cronenberg, a gas company manager who completes his goal to personally phone every customer and thank them for their business, before going home to await Sandra, leaving employee Donna in charge.
Sandra has car trouble:
Don and Sandra get grudging help from Don’s playboy car-collector friend Craig, who is rapidly going through a list of sexual conquests – both acts and partners (Lily, a black woman; Don, who refuses; and their high school French teacher, Genevieve Bujold).
Bujold with Callum Rennie:
Cameo by Pontypool director Bruce McDonald (with the bat)
The midnight hour approaches, but the sun is still up – apparently it hasn’t gone down in weeks. Don’s sister Sarah Polley and her boyfriend attend the final countdown celebration in the middle of town. A nerdy guy named Menzies holds a solo piano concert in an otherwise-unused theater. Cronenberg is shot by marauding youth. His employee Donna, a virgin, is Craig’s final visitor. And Sandra, losing her dream of last-second double-suicide with her beloved, ends up in the arms of Don. It seemed like a generic-indie-looking unexceptional drama in the first ten minutes, but totally hooked me and proved amazingly touching by the end. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Cronenberg gets a taste of his own horror-makeup medicine:
“If you wanna drive, you’ve gotta kill.”
Opens with a mini-documentary about rabbit breeding, and I’m thinking someone had been watching L’age d’Or lately.
Bruce with his lead actress:
Record label flunky Ramona (Valerie Buhagiar, later in Highway 61) is assigned the task of tracking down a touring band gone missing, Children of Paradise. She takes a taxi for this purpose, drives 18 hours straight. Main label guy Roy, with slicked-back hair and a vaguely familiar look (he had small parts in eXistenZ and A History of Violence) stays back, yelling at her over the phone when she calls in.
She finds the band briefly, but the singer has disappeared. So she pools her efforts with a documentary crew (the director of which is played by Bruce McDonald himself) also hired to document the Children of Paradise. At some point she has sex with a 15-year-old guy at the drive-in, who gives her his car. Ramona finally finds the band’s singer, now a spaced-out mute bald hot-dog salesman. But he wanders off, leaving her with a self-proclaimed serial killer, played by Don McKellar, the movie’s writer. All the players (including Roy) meet up at a bar for the finale, supposed to be the Children of Paradise’s final show, and it is, since Don shoots a whole bunch of people (including the documentary crew – only movie I’ve seen in which the writer gets to kill the director).
Postscript: the taxi’s meter rolls over and Ramona only owes a couple bucks. Also the cabby meets Joey Ramone for some reason.
Fun indie movie, creatively and energetically shot, with wall-to-wall music. I’d be glad to see more indie films take their cues from punk rock instead of from Little Miss Sunshine.
Joshua at Octopus Cinema:
Aesthetically, the film contains many more iconic moments than one would think, from the silhouetted conversation [Don McKellar] has with Ramona to the solitary dance Ramona shares with Luke in the center of a grouping of cars, McDonald peppers the film with moments of intermittent beauty, striking images that remain on the brain for hours afterward.