Guy Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson’s spectacular new film “The Forbidden Room” opens with a smarmy man (think Neil Hamburger’s uncle) offering instructions on how to take a bath (a monologue written by poet John Ashbery). From the benign bathwater, the story plunges under the watery depths to where a a crew of four men (their captain missing) is stuck on a submarine carrying unstable explosives. Oxygen is in short supply and the desperate men devour their flapjacks, perfectly light, for the air bubbles.
Improbably (but no more so than much of the phantasmagoric epic that follows), an athletic woodsman (a “saplingjack”) is suddenly in their company, gravely concerned about Margot, the woman he adores, who has been abducted by the Red Wolves, vicious cave-dwelling bandits.
Then stories–maybe extravagant hallucinations generated by the brains of the oxygen-deprived crew–open out of stories, stories thread through stories, and double back, punctuated with outrageous intertitles: sexy, writhing skeletons (working for an insurance agent) seduce and poison an unusually skilled surgeon; a volcano demands virgin sacrifice and the Volcano Club’s patrons applaud an amnesiac Margot’s singing; her ex-boyfriend has been transformed into an aswang, a small, animal vampire, menacing her from her bed; an exceptionally fleet man binds heavy rocks to his feet to prevent him from outrunning his prey; a woman on a train “somewhere between Bogotá and Berlin” shoots her inner child; a dead man’s mustache hairs (note Evan’s–they’re perfect) are mourned by his wife and child. The proceedings, with riotous color, gorgeous grain and glowing spectral highlights, are pure delirium (more, please).
With a seeming cast of hundreds (including Udo Kier, Louis Negrin, Mathieu Amalric, Maria de Medeiros, Roy Dupuis, Adéle Haenel, Charlotte Rampling and Clara Furey), Maddin and Johnson have crafted a totally engrossing and often very funny two-strip Technicolor tribute to the cinema of an earlier time, both lost and that which never existed, except in the directors’ fertile and unparalleled imaginations.
“The Forbidden Room,” which recently screened in NYFF53’s main slate, will open Wednesday, October 7 at Film Forum for a two-week run. Maddin will be in person on Monday, October 12 for a Q&A after the 7:00 pm show and to intro the 9:30 pm show.