Whilst Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist (2011) is sweeping up awards across the globe for its masterful use of cinematic nostalgia, it seems odd that the German expressionist-inspired works of Guy Maddin remains resigned to the appreciation of arthouse cinephiles. However, his most recent production Keyhole (2011) doesn’t look like changing that dynamic, pushing his abstract approach passed the realms of worldwide accessibility.
In Keyhole, the universe is confined to one constantly expanding house – the inhabitants of which are the Pick family, a gang of no-good criminals and a series of ghostly apparitions. It’s a world where the supernatural coexist with the living and where time flits back and forth. Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) returns to the house after a long journey with a nameless, gagged young man and the body of a drowned girl. His gang of petty mercenaries have been holding fort during his absence and now he must embark on a perilous journey through his home to find his wife Hyacinth (Maddin regular Isabella Rossellini).
Maddin’s films always feel like they’re trapped within a timeless vortex, where common sense in unable to penetrate his unique world. However, whilst the constraints of the real world are prohibited, so to it seems are the self imposed limits Maddin set himself on previous films. Whilst always submerged in abstract narrative devices, there always remained a spine to these stories, yet with Keyhole the plot is far more elusive, relying rather too heavily on the audience to draw comparisons with Homer’s The Odyssey to truly immerse themselves in this surreal world of ghosts and the supernatural.
Like some kind of noirish nightmare taking place in the repressed memories of It’s central protagonist, Keyhole is an incredibly haunting journey that looks set to divide audience at this year’s Berlinale. Much like David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006) there will be many fully prepared to lose themselves in Maddin’s ludicrously overindulgent nightmare, however everyone else will struggle to find little more than an incoherent mess of a film. Regardless of where you find yourself, there’s little doubt that Keyhole will firmly lodge itself in the forefront of your mind.
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