This week in movies you missed: the world's strangest gangster film from Canadian director Guy Maddin.
What You Missed
In a black-and-white world that evokes the 1930s, gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) brings his ragtag gang back to his home, which is stuffed to the gills with ghosts and memories.
After a shoot-out that leaves some of his men dead (they demonstrate their "dead" status by turning around and facing the wall), Ulysses rambles through the house's rooms, reliving memories of his wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), who's hiding in an upstairs room and refuses to admit him. Chained to her bed is her naked, obese father, who narrates the film and intones sinisterly, "Remember, Ulysses. Remember!"
As the family's dismal history emerges — the Pick kids don't have a good survival rate — Hyacinth and her father speculate that Ulysses seeks not revenge, but forgiveness, "which is even more threatening."
Why You Missed It
Maddin doesn't make his experimental films for the multiplex: This one was funded by the Canadian government and Ohio State University. Widest release: seven theaters.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Not if you think you might enjoy seeing Kevin McDonald (of the Kids in the Hall) gleefully humping a ghost. Or a death scene involving a bike-powered, homemade electric chair that ends with the executioners chanting, "Into the bog!" Or a scene where there's a penis randomly sticking out of a wall, and Patric (former swain of Julia Roberts) remarks, "The penis is getting dusty."
This is my first Guy Maddin film. I always assumed this Canadian David Lynch was too esoteric for me, since I don't have a great track record with oblique, art-for-art's-sake films (case in point). But I do like what I would call "grubby surrealism," or surrealism with a sense of humor, and that's what Keyhole turned out to be.
So, why isn't this movie boring?
- It isn't trying to be cool, as so many "postmodern noirs" are. Patric makes a handsome gangster, but he isn't a character we're expected to see as anything but an archetype used in weird and mischievous ways.
- Lots of stuff happens. None of it makes much sense, but the attempt to make sense of it keeps viewers awake and alert. This isn't one of those art films that's mostly gorgeous, static shots, though Maddin's recreation of the '30s noir aesthetic is quite beautiful.
- It's funny. Needless to say, we're talking the humor of straight-faced non sequiturs.
- It has wonderful spooky-haunted-house-slash-avant-garde music to match the visuals.
- It has random star cameos, like Udo Kier as a doctor, not to mention Rossellini with a very strong accent.
- I really don't "get" any of it, yet I don't care. Maybe everything in the film has deep meaning for Maddin, but, like The Bald Soprano, it's absurdism you can enjoy on its own terms.
Verdict: I'd heard this film is a good "gateway" to Maddin, and it is. I'll be sampling more of his stuff soon, while savoring the thought that the Canadian government funded this lunacy.
Other New Releases You May Have Missed
- And Everything Is Going Fine (Steven Soderbergh's doc about the late Spalding Gray)
- Attenberg (another cool-looking, youth-oriented drama from Greece [à la Dogtooth])
- Cat Run (thriller involving Paz Vega scantily clad with gun)
- A Bag of Hammers (another indie about slackers contemplating growing up)
- Four Lovers (French! with sex!)
- The FP (futuristic tale in which Dance Dance Revolution has become a blood sport, I think)
- Jeff, Who Lives at Home
- My Afternoons With Margueritte (Gérard Depardieu is illiterate in this French heart warmer)
- Seeking Justice (Nicolas Cage and January Jones couldn't get this thriller in theaters.)
- Wanderlust (According to this, one of the funniest movies of the year. Having seen it, I disagree, but maybe it's worth a look...)