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The Forbidden Room

In THE FORBIDDEN ROOM Guy Maddin, the great Canadian magician of surreal cinema, resurrects lost and forgotten storylines and compiles them making a meandering, wild and hypnotic cinematic trip.


Guy Maddin’s film THE FORBIDDEN ROOM begins with the bible quote “when they were filled, he said unto his disciples: Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. John 6, 12.” Maddin has collected the fragments which remain. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM gathers the plots of lost films and combines them to make a kind of babushka story: a plot within a plot and so on and so on.

It all begins with a bathtub. The film HOW TO TAKE A BATH by director Dwain Esper, who according to Maddin was the distributor of Todd Browning’s FREAKS and the legendary stoner movie REEFER MADNESS, is missing. Epser made a few exploitation films dressed as a counselor, among them HOW TO UNDRESS IN FRONT OF YOUR HUSBAND. HOW TO TAKE A BATH was also mostly a vehicle to show naked women.

Poet John Ashberry took the lost film and wrote a screenplay for the background story of Maddin’s film, in which a disheveled gentlemen gives boastful and very funny advice about how to take a bath. The bathtub becomes the source of more lost film histories which interfuse, interlace, and replace each other. Among them is a submarine which threatens to explode when it tries to reach the surface. The captain is gone, but maybe he just doesn’t want to be disturbed. The seamen carefully investigate sections of the pipe when they come across a lumberjack who is looking for beautiful Margot who was kidnapped by a group of red wolves, but maybe she is in cahoots with them. The snow tells a man, who is eavesdropping, about a volcano adventure and a dancer dreams of banana vampires. There’s an intermezzo with a music number from 70s cult band Sparks which sing a nice song about a man who is obsessed with derrieres. And somehow we return to the bathtub.

The fact that Maddin’s absurd project doesn’t fall apart at the seams but is actually very entertaining is mostly due to the stylistic choices, especially when it comes to the color and the music. Parts of the film look like the first phase of technicolor films that were made out of two black and white films with one colored in red and one colored in green. Others look like virage silent films or modern technicolor variants. Color transitions and contrasts connect and separate the segments and lead viewers through the labyrinthine narratives.

Is there more to THE FORBIDDEN ROOM than a funny-melodramatic overload of images and stories? Maddin’s films is reminiscent of Hamburg art historian Aby Warburg’s search for art’s pathos formula, a universal form of expression of archetypical emotions. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM is a kaleidoscope of genre cinema with its quests, missing women, dangerous transformations, mythic travel companions, genius and perverse doctors, magical resurrections, and ambivalent eroticism. The film doesn’t have one point to make but it draws a big circle. Maddin takes a bath in cinema’s unconsciousness. Last of all, THE FORBIDDEN ROOM is a big hymn to cinema’s inventiveness and its lost and forgotten films.


Translation: Elinor Lewy


Kanada 2015, 119 min
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Mystery
Director: Guy Maddin
Author: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson
DOP: Stéphanie Weber-Biron
Montage: John Gurdebeke
Music: Galen Johnson
Distributor: Arsenal Institut
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin
Release: 07.04.2016


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