by M. Faust
Guy Maddin describes this as his first exercise in pure narrative filmmaking. What a kidder. Granted, the Canadian director has always been more interested in recreating old movie tropes and investigating the workings of memory than in storytelling. But even by his standard, which has grown increasingly obscure even as his cult has grown, Keyhole is a difficult film to make conclusions about. Even the title seems to suggest that one should only expect to get a glimpse of what is going on. (The screenplay is credited to Maddin and his regular collaborator, George Toles, Buffalo native and brother of cartoonist Tom Toles.)
Set in the same house where Maddin’s last film, the pseudo-biographical My Winnipeg, took place (and already you’re at a loss if you’re not familiar with his canon), Keyhole begins with the arrival of gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric), who once lived here. That he begins by dividing his gang into the ones who did and did not survive the hail of bullets from the police outside the door (ushering the latter of stage with “The cops’ll make sure you get to the morgue”) is an early clue that this movie is playing by rules of its own.
Like the Greek hero whose name he bears, Ulysses is in search of his wife (Isabella Rossellini), who lives in an attic room where she keeps her naked father chained to her bed. If you want to read something about the actress’s relationship to her own father, director Roberto Rossellini, go right ahead. While you’re at it, ponder that she and her father are also named after figures from Greek mythology—Hyacinth and Calypso—that seem to have nothing to do with the Odyssey.
Are you starting to get the idea? Shot in black and white with dramatic lighting that may or may not be meant as a parody of film noir, Keyhole is as distinctive-looking as all of Maddin’s work (an oeuvre that now stretches over three decades). But it’s less accessible, as he seems to have refined a pattern of dreams and memories understood only by himself, or to those who have studied all of his films in depth.
Watch the trailer for Keyhole
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v11n19 (Best of Buffalo Issue, week of Thursday, May 10) > Film Reviews > Keyhole
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