One of the most indescribable, outrageous and surreal films ever made, Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room defies categorization and hardly qualifies as a film in any traditional sense. What it is, though, is a brilliant work of art; one that relatively few people would enjoy sitting through. Indeed, The Forbidden Room had only a single screening in Winnipeg, Guy Maddin’s home town, there were only about twenty people there, and four of them walked out after about thirty minutes. They’d had enough of Maddin’s madness.
Having seen Maddin’s previous films, I had an inkling of what might be in store and I was riveted from the opening scene. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of this film but I did sometimes feel overwhelmed by it and can’t say that my first viewing was wholly satisfying. Still, I found parts of it hilarious, parts of it jaw-dropping, parts of it horrific, parts hugely entertaining and parts mind-numbing.
The Forbidden Room contains a series of short dream-like scenes that look like excerpts from old (often silent-era) films and follow no linear plot, though they do somehow fold into each other. Perhaps it is meant to be a dream, a voyage into Maddin’s unconscious mind. The Forbidden Room begins with a lesson on taking baths that looks like it was filmed in the 60s and moves into the bathwater to find men trapped in a submarine that’s about to explode who suddenly encounter a woodsman looking for Margot, who has been captured by wolf-men in a forest. And so it goes for 130 minutes, with one insane story after another, interrupted frequently by cards with different fonts that tell us who the actors are - sometimes recognizable actors like Charlotte Rampling or Udo Kier or Geraldine Chaplain, but mostly obscure actors.
Since very few readers will have any interest in getting on this insane ride, I won’t spend more time writing about it. If you’re a Guy Maddin fan (I should mention that technically Evan Johnson is one of the directors of the film) or a real diehard cinephile, you won’t want to miss this film (ideally, watch it on a big screen). Otherwise you can just forget you ever heard about it (I expect very few people will have a chance to see it). I’m glad I took the ride but I’m not sure if I would want to take it again. The Forbidden Room gets ***+ for the sheer genius involved in its making. My mug is up, but be wary of the dark brew inside.