The Forbidden Room review: All the phantasmagoria you can handle

The Forbidden Room began life as a wildly ambitious and proudly cuckoo project at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris

The Forbidden Room
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Director: Guy Maddin , Evan Johnson
Cert: Club
Genre: Fantasy
Starring: Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Udo Kier, Gregory Hlady, Mathieu Amalric, Noel Burton, Géraldine Chaplin
Running Time: 1 hr 59 mins

“Margo sings of the aswang, the jungle vampire.” Do go on. “The most umbraged of all” island sacrifices include fish, fowl, tyre and tapioca. But, of course.

If you’re a fan of the great Canadian auteur Guy Maddin – and you should be, whoever you are – such concepts will seem perfectly promulent.

For three decades, the writer-director behind such arthouse and festival hits as Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary, The Saddest Music in the World and My Winnipeg, has enriched the medium we call movie with psychosexual tales of Soviet supermen, glass legs, cannibalism, vampires, arctic tundra, illegal abortion, amnesia and ice hockey, all fashioned to resemble the keyholed cinema of the early sound era: one particularly heightened section of The Forbidden Room could pass as telenovela reworking of Eyes Without a Face.

Many of Maddin's films are, or begin life as, installation pieces, including the imperious Cowards Bend the Knee.


Thus, The Forbidden Room began life as a wildly ambitious and proudly cuckoo project at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Following a brief overture in which Maddin regular Louis Negin stars in the director's imagined version of a lost 1937 instructional short titled How to Take a Bath, we are introduced to the doomed crew of a submarine.

The men cannot resurface lest they detonate their volatile explosive jelly they are carrying.

And so they must survive on the air between the oats in flapjacks. They don’t expect company yet a woodsman appears through a hatch with an even taller tale to tell.

There follows, in the manner of matryoshka dolls, a defiantly ludicrous, frequently laugh-out-loud funny sequence of dreams within dreams. At 119minutes, there is, perhaps, more phantasmagory than most viewers can handle.

Still, there’s a strange comfort in knowing that Freud’s fascinating topography of the mind will never be completely discredited while Maddin is making deliriously absurd movies.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic