The Forbidden Room (12A)
Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson.
Starring: Roy Dupuis, Louis Negin, Clara Furey. Canada 2015. 119 mins.
The ‘lost film’ holds a mysterious power in cinema. There are numerous tales of abandoned projects, missing reels and transgressive masterpieces that have been cast into the abyss. If rediscovered, could they offer a doorway into otherworldly cinematic realms?
Welcome, then, to The Forbidden Room. Guy Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson have taken inspiration from a dozen lost or abandoned films from the ’20s and ’30s to script a pulsating labyrinth of interlocking stories within stories. The simple pleasures of mainstream cinema’s familiar tropes are banished. Instead, an unhinged dream unfolds in a series of perverse melodramas – journeying further and further to the edge of reason.
Guy Maddin has form in cinematic dreamscapes across the span of a 30-year career in which he’s become synonymous with the visual language of silent and early sound cinema. It’s a style that easily lends itself to Maddin’s obsessions. Surrealist logic prevails, and images evoke the monochrome and two-strip technicolour film techniques of the era. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching something very old indeed.
The Forbidden Room was actually shot digitally, but was processed to make the images replicate the look of old film stock. Persistently informative silent film-era intertitles keep the stories on track, as each strange scene freakishly morphs into something stranger. The threat of a film print spontaneously combusting seems to hover over every cut, with the faces of the actors themselves often burning up before a pyrotechnic rebirth elsewhere.
Trapped in this weird filmic dimension, the game cast includes recognisable art-house stalwarts like Charlotte Rampling and Mathieu Amalric. Fascinatingly, the actors’ performances were captured entirely in public studio spaces open to visitors, who were free to watch the shoot at close range. When you see Udo Kier undergoing open brain surgery while Sparks sing The Final Derriere, you’ll wish you had been one of them.
Yet for all its craziness, The Forbidden Room offers a compulsively watchable feast of bizarre imagery: by turns hilarious, erotic, repulsive and disturbing. The whole shebang throbs with the excitement of the unexpected. The result is mystifying, refreshing and wildly entertaining. Enter at your own risk.
The Forbidden Room plays across Picturehouse Cinemas on Tuesday 8 March. Find out more
Times+ members can discover stunning cinema by visiting www.ourscreen.com/discover
Every day MUBI’s in-house experts hand-pick a beautiful new film and you have 30 days to watch it. £4.99 a month with the first month free for Picturehouse customers. mubi.com/picturehouse