Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room plays like a super cut of films from different countries, genres, and eras (but mostly the late 1920s and early 1930s). Using title cards, on-screen text in varying fonts, German Expressionist lighting, Soviet-style montage, and artificially aged digital imagery, he constructs a labyrinthine narrative that doubles as a sort of miniature film festival.
Maddin begins and ends the proceedings with Marv (Louis Negin), an avuncular fellow in big black glasses and a loosely wrapped Hugh Hefner robe, talking about baths as the director cuts to nude men and women soaping themselves up (he's always been an egalitarian when it comes to nudity). From tubs, he shifts to four sweaty men in a submarine filled with a glutinous mass of dynamite that will explode if they get too close to the surface. Oxygen is running low, so they gorge on flapjacks in hopes that the air in the batter will delay the inevitable. The next thing they know, a lumberjack with silent-movie eyeliner (Roy Dupuis) materializes in their midst.
If the men can't leave, Cesare, the lumberjack, exits just as easily as he entered in a bid to rescue kidnapped singing flower girl Margot (Clara Furey), a quest that leads to dozens of interlocked stories in which fingers snap, black bananas talk, and mustache hairs dream.
Maddin has a predilection for adding famous faces to his fanciful scenarios, like Shelley Duvall in Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and Isabella Rossellini in The Saddest Music in the World. For this outing, the iconic Udo Kier (a favorite of Andy Warhol and Lars von Trier) plays an elderly gentleman obsessed with ladies' derrieres, while Hannibal's Caroline Dhavernas plays a reckless motorcyclist torn between two orthopedic surgeons (legendary synth-pop duo Sparks perform the ass fancier's catchy theme song, "The Final Derriere"). Also in the European-heavy mix: Geraldine Chaplin, Mathieu Amalric, Maria de Medeiros, and Charlotte Rampling.
It's a lot to take in at once, but it's a Maddin picture through and through, even though it actually represents a collaboration with Evan Johnson. Sometimes, midway through their career, a restless filmmaker will make one film that feels like a culmination of every one they've ever made before. It's a way to revisit their past before moving on to something new. For Martin Scorsese, that film was Casino. For Wong Kar-wai, it was 2046. And for Guy Maddin, it's The Forbidden Room, his own unique version of a greatest-hits collection.