Keyhole

Fri, Sep 14, 2012, 01:00

Directed by David Frankel. Starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue, Mimi Rogers, Jean Smart 15A cert, general release, 100 min

KEYHOLE IS THE first Guy Maddin film that could, just conceivably (at a stretch) have been made by somebody else. The film is much less personal than the Canadian’s autobiographical, beautiful My Winnipeg. It is more robust and sinewy than the balletic Dracula, Pages from a Virgin’s Diary.

Mind you, it could only have been directed by a film-maker who was trying hard to be Guy Maddin. Shot in crisp monochrome, scored to ambient throbs, the film still reeks of Madden’s characteristic, antique oddness.

Earlier this month we enjoyed self-conscious references to vintage cinema in the fine Tabu. The brilliant Berberian Sound Studio also had fun with film history. As expected, Mr Maddin plunges deeper still into the referential tide. Too deep for many, perhaps. Keyhole is so taken up with its noir allusions, nods to the classics and journeys up its own knotted intestines that it abandons any attempt to tell a lucid story.

A gangster named – wait for it, wait for it – Ulysses (Jason Patric) returns to a mysterious house with his gang. Any suspicion that we are moving through the real world dissipates when he asks the party to separate themselves into the dead and the living. Later we meet a woman who appears to be drowning on her feet. Showing admirable lack of vanity, Isabella Rossellini turns up as the pale, drained mother of the antihero. Penises emerge from walls. Ghostly voices burble over the soundtrack.

The temptation to draw comparisons is irresistible. The lead’s name bellows its own significance. The house within which the entire picture takes place suggests those in Mark Z Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves (endless nested realities) and James Whale’s The Old Dark House (grizzly family secrets).

None of these, ahem, keys will, however, help you spring the lock on this endlessly busy and often frustrating movie. The more it goes on, the more you suspect Madden may be taking you for a ride. It is, nonetheless, a very enjoyable trip.

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