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New Release Review - THE FORBIDDEN ROOM

Cult filmmaker Guy Maddin's latest slice of surrealism.


Review by Rúairí Conneely (@rmconneely)

Directed by: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson

Starring: Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, Maria de Medeiros, Ariane Labed, Adele Haenel


Clocking in at around two hours, I can honestly say that by that late in the game I could have hung in there for another hour but I know I’m the exception rather than the rule. Throw caution to the wind and try to embrace The Forbidden Room or else don’t even bother.



Oh boy. Forbidden is almost right. Forbidding is more on the money. This is a movie that 90% of people will come to detest very rapidly, if they are obliged to sit through it. Not because it’s bad you understand, just because it is taxing, self-referential, dream-like in structure and almost bottomlessly digressive. If you hear anyone criticise The Forbidden Room as ‘self-indulgent’ then you can crown them Master of Understatement for All Time, and confiscate their imagination permanently, as they are not using it nor are they ever likely too.
Directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, The Forbidden Room is a pastiche of the style and form of silent films and a lengthy homage to surrealist improvisation. Many will be drawn in by the impressive cast: Charlotte Rampling, Mathieu Amalric, Geraldine Chaplin, Udo Kier (of course!) and Maria de Mederios will be the most recognisable to an Anglophone audience but the film is freighted with other faces who will be glancingly familiar to followers of European and Canadian cinema. Although it may not be immediately obvious on viewing, The Forbidden Room was shot on public lots before live audiences. I expect this was a huge draw for the cast, who get to throw comic and melodramatic shapes. There is a theatrical staginess to many proceedings that underlines the silent-era feel.
The film is literally as self-indulgent as your sleeping brain, endlessly tossing up stories within stories and tangents upon tangents, often looping back to their source by going the long way around, reconnecting to what passes for a core narrative as an afterthought. To begin, a woodsman emerges onto a submarine dripping with fresh water. The submarine is running out of breathable air. They are eating crumpets and airy flapjacks to imbibe more air. They make their way forward to the captain’s forbidden room, at the far aft of the craft, one or two of them sharing fevered stories as they go. These stories give way to further stories. There is something resembling a quest but it seems more a formal necessity than anything driven from within any given character. If you’re in a fairy tale, you obey the imperatives of a fairy tale character, right?
I’ve said before in reviewing challenging films that ‘Your Mileage May Vary’ and never has it been truer than here. A few people walked out of the screening in exacerbated disgust, and into the first hour or so, I felt too restless and sometimes irritated by the endless restarting of the narrative and a constant knowing wink at the audience. After a little over an hour, a curious peace settled over me, and I began to respond emotionally to whichever story was presented. The colour palette, and the digital filters applied to simulate aging film all changed from sequence to sequence so sometimes I was entertained and soothed, other times irate and daydreaming of a peaceful coffee in the foyer. It’s been a long time since I had to surrender to a film so completely as to effectively let it hypnotise me, and I honestly can’t remember having been exposed to so many narratives at once. I also have the feeling that there are several hundred references to cinema history that flew right past me in my bewilderment.
Clocking in at around two hours, I can honestly say that by that late in the game I could have hung in there for another hour but I know I’m the exception rather than the rule. Throw caution to the wind and try to embrace The Forbidden Room or else don’t even bother.
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