The Forbidden Room

Review by Anton Bitel @AntBit

Directed by

Evan Johnson Guy Maddin


Clara Furey Louis Negin Roy Dupuis


You know what you’re in for with Guy Maddin. The question is how crazy will it be.


This is a whole bathtub full of crazy. In a good way.

In Retrospect.

A cinematic cleansing like no other.

Lose yourself in the mind-bending majesty of Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s cine odyssey.

“Hello, I’m Marv,” a white-haired, bespectacled man (Louis Negin) says direct to camera, his half-open robe hanging at a louche angle over his otherwise naked body, near the beginning of Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room. “Today we’re going to discuss baths.” They are worth discussing. For as we lie in the bathtub, there is a collision of grime and cleanliness, of expiatory purification and bare-assed sexuality.

The natural stench of our body’s odours and emissions is gradually wiped by the headily exotic perfume of the soap. As we wash away the accrued film of smut and filth, we melt in the moist warmth, our mind drifts, and we are remade, becoming a refreshed double of our dirtier selves, ready to face the world, or perhaps even a lover – who, if we are lucky, has similarly washed, in preparation to get sweaty and soiled all over again.

The Forbidden Room is not really about baths – but still, as Marv’s lessons (and dirty jokes) leak into the film’s fluid textures and watery depths, viewers are likely to find themselves fully immersed in all the Maddin madness. If the opening credits intermix old-world title sequences from multiple stories though unstable celluloid-like media that burn, melt and fray around the edges, all this is a fitting prelude to the mind-bending labyrinth of impossibly interpolated tales and diabolical digressions that follows.

LWLies Weekly – The Forbidden Room issue

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The painted backdrops, the vaseline-smeared lenses, the tinted images, the overwrought gestural performances, the hyperbolic score, the endless succession of sensationalist, bizarre and often lewd intertitles – these retro stylings have become a signature of Maddin’s work, and here they are the gooey glue that beautifully, if barely, holds together his free associations. It is as though random episodes from different 1930s serial melodramas were sent swirling together down the same plughole, in a descending spiral of dizzyingly lost connections and bent plumbing – like Wojciech Has’ The Saragossa Manuscript reinvented as hornily fetishistic hallucination by someone who has gone heavy on the bath salts.

It is not so much that there is no narrative – on the contrary, there is a surfeit of stories here, each unnervingly odd in its own right and all linked together by a desultory logic that belongs to a dream – or at least to steamy, sudsy reverie. In the middle of one story about seamen “TRAPPED!” (as a hyperbolic intertitle has it) in their submarine “the SS Plunger” and forced to survive off the pockets of oxygen in their flapjacks, the mysterious lumberjack Cesare (Roy Dupuis) mysteriously drops in, and tells the desperate crew, in search of their missing captain, the parallel story of his own quest to rescue his beloved Margot (Clara Furey) from her wild abductors the Red Wolves. Things eccentrically and concentrically spiral from there.

The result is certainly full of “boggling puzzlements”, but also of ideas and invention, of errant eros and unfathomable (if not strictly bottomless) hilarity. So sit back, unwind, and lose yourself to this transglobal tubthumping oneiro-epic bathtime of the psyche – for some good, if questionably clean, fun.

Published 10 Dec 2015


You know what you’re in for with Guy Maddin. The question is how crazy will it be.


This is a whole bathtub full of crazy. In a good way.

In Retrospect.

A cinematic cleansing like no other.

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