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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Sundance 2015 Review: The Forbidden Room

Forbidden Room 5If there’s a director at Sundance who would view assertions that his film garnered the most walkouts of the fest as an indication he succeeded in making the film he intended, it’s Canadian director Guy Maddin, here this year with what I consider his finest and most layered work yet, The Forbidden Room. Known for making trippy, weird stories that are both deeply personal explorations of philosophical ideas, Maddin works in layers of abstract visual poetry. Recline in your seat, breathe in, breathe out, and allow the imagery to flow into you as you try to take it all in; you’re peering directly into Maddin’s brain through the lens of his camera, and given the recurrence of the idea of “brain” throughout his work, that’s about as meta as you can get.

Forbidden Room 4Maddin, working here with his co-director/prodigy/researcher Evan Johnson, weave together interconnected snippets of many different stories, intricately nested within each other like a cinematic matryoshka doll in which each new layer unfolds with its own brilliant palette to assail your senses as their stories dance around and through each other: the crew of a submarine, trapped and running out of oxygen but afraid to disturb their captain, desperately chews flapjacks to release the air bubbles and survive; a lost woodsman mysteriously appears to tell the tale of a fearsome clan. Skeleton women! Kidnapping! Amnesia! Murder!! And of course, Mother … Mother. Always watching!!!

Forbidden Room 2And hey – spoiler!!! – don’t even get me started on the vampire bananas and the hilariously weird wrapper of an old dude in a spectacular bathrobe walking us through the best procedure for taking a bath that’s interspersed throughout. You have to be playing close attention to catch the relevance to everything else going on, but like everything in a Maddin film, there’s a reason its there.

As tends to be the case when absorbing Maddin’s work, it helps to have a sense of humor, some intellectual curiosity and a willingness to be open to cinematic ideas presented in non-traditional ways. This is the lauded directer at his most playful – but also at his most mature in terms of his ability to simultaneously be one of the most collaborative directors working today while maintaining the stylistic aesthetic of a true auteur. If that seems like a contradiction in terms, well, that’s Maddin: inherently original and utterly unique in his thinking about how to convey ideas visually through moving images, yet somehow able to both convey precisely what he wants to others and absorb the input of his actors and crew into his palette as well. The end result, here at least, is a collaborative canvas-in-motion that ultimately reflects Maddin’s true artistic bent perhaps more than any of his previous efforts, precisely because it’s the least insular and introspective of his films to date.

Maddin and Johnson (who also handled the digital manipulation and vividly saturated, shifting color palette) together create a complex, brilliant kaleidoscope of a world where at every turn things shift while still remaining threaded as a whole. Within these connected storyworlds, Maddin’s actors – a spectacularly impressive lineup including Mathieu Almaric, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin and more – bring to life these vivid and melodramatic tales that shun the kind of realism audiences are comfortable with in favor of Maddin’s uniquely metaphorical storytelling.

Forbiddin Room 1I wouldn’t call The Forbidden Room necessarily more broadly accessible than his other films, but neither do I have the remotest sense that the director ever even considers such a thing when planning his next cinematic adventure. Maddin works in poetry, not prose, and if his work can be accused of being broadly inaccessible, well, that’s probably exactly the way he likes it. And that’s just fine with me. The Forbidden Room certainly isn’t going to take your hand and gently explain to you what’s going on, but if you set aside expectations of a typical cinematic experience and allow it to be what it is, it’s a simply sublime and deeply satisfying feast for the cinematic soul.

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook