When selecting the films to watch at a festival, I try and get a nice balance between researching my options in depth and leaving space for surprise. That balance was spot on with Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room (2015).
Having heard of Maddin but not seen any of his work, the promise of classic cinema homage was enough to get me through the door. What was not at all expected was that this would be one of the funniest films I had seen for a long time, the material delivered with a deliriously silly sense of humour. Right from the very old fashioned, flickering subtitles, The Forbidden Room screams its love and appreciation for both classic Hollywood and just classic storytelling more broadly. The constant riffs on, and invocation, of both B-movie genre cinema and silent film initially feel a little too much. But once you settle into it, stop trying to ascertain exactly what is going on and just embrace the ludicrousness of it all, you are in for a treat. The humour in the film comes out of the absurdity of these old fashioned forms of storytelling, the ridiculousness of genre convention and writing that results in the funniest intertitles you are ever likely to see.
Films that are as experimental as this in their construction and storytelling generally get tiresome, especially if they are over 90 minutes long. Despite the fact that it could have been a reasonable amount shorter, you never get restless throughout The Forbidden Room. The visuals are so bold, the homage so loving and the intertitles so hilarious that the viewer is constantly engaged. This is a totally different B-movie homage to any other. It examines these beloved old genres in detail. Toying with the exoticism of classic adventure tales and the schlocky imagery (exposed brains) of horror films, all whilst embracing and elevating the stylistic conceits of these genres. In addition to all that, there is a narrative to the film that it is possible to tease out, unlike much experimental cinema. It’s a silly one and a not very deep one, but it’s there nonetheless. And the freewheeling absurdity of the plot construction, a loving set of babushka dolls where silly little vignettes tumble out of each other, is one of the chief charms of the film.
Verdict: Plenty have found the experience of The Forbidden Room a taxing one. It wasn’t for me though, the film is far too silly, funny and wittily written for that. A hilarious cacophony of images. Pint of Kilkenny