Starring Jason Patric and Isabella Rossellini. Rated 14A.
In the history of cinema, 2012 is a pivotal year. By December 31, every screen in France will be digitized, and the rest of the planet won’t be far behind. What this means, basically, is that the 117-year reign of 35-mm film stock is now over. The last time a transformation this definitive occurred was in the late 1920s, when the world rewired for sound. No wonder The Artist and Hugo swept the Oscars this year.
One technical death commemorates another.
So where does this leave Guy Maddin? For years, Canada’s most eccentric screen artist has strip-mined silent cinema for ideas, reimagining the tricks and tropes of the past in a wonderfully pixilated present. Every detail of every frame seems almost hand-painted. At times, he makes us wonder if Leonardo da Vinci and George Kuchar weren’t both reincarnated in the same Winnipeg body.
Keyhole might not be Maddin’s best work, but it’s almost certainly his most artfully crafted production yet. Beginning as a gangster movie with a Tommy-gun fight between mobsters and unseen policemen, the film soon mutates into a decidedly perverse haunted-house drama. Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric, looking for all the world like John Dillinger) issues a series of inexplicable commands to his not particularly trusting underlings, the better to make his way through the ghostly rooms of the family manse, where every last chamber contains some sort of phantom, often of a libidinal nature. It soon becomes clear that separating the quick from the dead is no easy task, as Ulysses does everything in his power to reach his estranged wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini, whom Maddin lights unmercifully).
Much of Keyhole will strike fans as a little too familiar: dead fathers, memory problems, polymorphous perversity, blindness, amputation, two-strip Technicolor, unseductive nudity, an acting style that is pitched in the key of Manitoba melodrama. We’ve all travelled down this road before. Still, the route is as scenic as ever, and, when flicker comes to shudder, Keyhole is as rewarding for aficionados as it is for the uninitiated.
Watch the trailer for Keyhole.