Directed by: Guy Maddin.
Written by: George Toles & Guy Maddin.
Starring: Jason Patric (Ulysses Pick), Isabella Rossellini (Hyacinth), Udo Kier (Dr. Lemke), Louis Negin (Calypso / Camille), Brooke Palsson (Denny), Suzanne Pringle (Brooke Palson's body double / Gun Moll), David Wontner (Manners), Kevin McDonald (Ogilbe), Daniel Enright (Big Ed), Theodoros Zegeye-Gebrehiwot (Heatly), Brent Neale (Denton), Olivia Rameau (Rochelle), Claude Dorge (Belview).
Guy Maddin is one of the distinctive directors working in the world today. Love his films, or hate them, there is no doubt about who made each and every one of them. He has directed 41 films since 1986 – most of them shorts, and although I’ve only seen a handful of them, I count myself as an admirer of his. No, I don’t think I’ve ever loved one of his films, but they are all unique and at the very least interesting. He dives back into our shared cinematic past, and comes up with something that is all his own.
His latest film is Keyhole, a very odd film indeed, which mixes elements of film noir and horror, but it really neither of those things. It opens with a group of gangsters firing their way into a house that has been surrounded by the cops. It is night, there is a thunderstorm going on, which keeps the cops at bay. We know we are in Maddin territory early – and not just because the film uses his distinctive black and white visuals. The film opens with a gangster telling everyone to line up against the wall – any one alive, face out, any one who is dead, face the wall. This may sound odd, but this is a house full of ghosts – of memories – so it makes a bizarre kind of sense. The lead gangster is Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) – and this is his house, and he needs to figure out its mysteries. In addition to his gang, there are two hostages – one young man bound and gagged, and a young woman who is soaking wet. Ulysses’ wife Hyacinth (Maddin regular Isabella Rossellini) is in a room on the top floor of her house, and has her naked father chained to the bed – but as he says, no one knows just how long that chain is.
I could try to explain what happens in Keyhole, but it would be an exercise in futility. I’ve seen the film, and I know what I saw, but I’m not sure I could describe precisely what happens in the film – or more importantly what it all means. Maddin has described the film as his first true narrative film, and there is certainly an element of that in this film – much more so than he previous films. And yet the film, like his others, plays more like a dream than a true narrative. While you watch the film, you know what is going on at any given moment, but when it is all over and you stand back and try to piece everything together, I’m not sure it all fits. But I am sure that Maddin doesn’t really care if it all fits he is more interested in diving headlong into cinema’s past and coming out, with his themes of memory and loss. These echo through Keyhole in many ways, and really throughout all of his films.
Keyhole is not my favorite Guy Maddin film – that would probably be his extremely bizarre “documentary” My Winnipeg, about his mixed emotions about his own home town. But it strangely, it may be his most accessible film – a good place to start for people who want to find their way into the films of this unique director. Because it has more a narrative, and more mystery to the narrative, it plays more like a “traditional” film than most of Maddin’s work, and as such audiences will be comfortable with it. No, I'm not sure if it all comes together, but it does provide enough details for audiences to parse. In Maddin’s best films – like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain – are purely felt and made films. Yet, Keyhole is still fascinating. It is still a film that only Guy Maddin would make.