Today: April 17, 2024


By Matthew Isard – When a film is described as both “a rousing 1930s gangster picture” and “a ghost sonata”

By Matthew Isard

When a film is described as both “a rousing 1930s gangster picture” and “a
ghost sonata” you know you’re watching something quite odd.
Coupled with the involvement of actress Isabella Rossellini and Canadian
director Guy Maddin, it soon becomes
clear that Keyhole isn’t for
mainstream audiences.

Many know
Rossellini, easily the best known name attached to the film, for her parts in Death Becomes Her, Blue Velvet, and the bizarre Green
. Fewer people might be aware of the director Maddin who is known for
recreating the feel of silent or early black and white films, long before The Artist came along. Many of his past
films have been autobiographical but, with Keyhole, Maddin goes for purely
narrative filmmaking with mixed success.

The film is based
on Homer’s Odyssey but Maddin has
put his own psychological and supernatural twist on the story. Ulysses (Jason Patric) is now a 1930’s crook rather
than a warrior from ancient Greece.
The epic journey is no longer from Troy back to his wife in Ithaca but
from the backdoor of his house to the bedroom on the top floor where his wife
(Isabella Rossellini) is waiting.
Ulysses also encounters a one-eyed monster, not the mythological
Cyclops, but a penis mounted on the wall. Accompanying him on his domestic
odyssey are a group of gangsters, a drowned girl who has mysteriously come back
to life (Brooke Palsson), and a kidnapped
young man who is the son he has forgotten about (David Wontner). In addition, ghosts wander through the house and
this is accepted without question by the characters. Does Keyhole sound alternative enough yet?

As Ulysses
travels through the house he tries to reclaim the memories that are locked in
each room. Ultimately Maddin’s aim appears to be to explore and study the
memories, both good and bad, and complex emotions that lurk in our homes and
the darkest recesses of our minds. These memories are often created by simple
everyday objects that have a special significance to the occupants. While this is
an impressive and brave aim, the full potential is lost among all the extra
things that are brought into the film. What with the ghosts, the unnecessary
sex and nudity, and the non-linear (often unfollowable) narrative, the analysis
of how homes store memories can’t be registered by the audience since they are given
too many other things to get their heads around. There are points when a ghost gives
oral sex to the mounted penis that adds nothing to the film and appears to be done
simply to shock viewers.

What the film appears
to lack in concrete substance it has in style however and Keyhole looks great. Shooting
in black and white with many superimpositions, Maddin accurately creates the
feel of early cinema, which is spectacular to look at. The acting is also uniformly
strong with Patric giving a noteworthy performance as the desperate ‘tough guy’

This is certainly
not a film in which you can leave your brain at the door and it will test your ability
to keep track of what is going on.
Although the film has highbrow intentions, they are lost in the all the
madness that is included. Maybe if it had been a little more stripped back, or
a little more conventional, the film would have been more successful at relaying
its message. Rather than leaving a new way of viewing the world, audiences are
likely to leave confused over what exactly they have just seen.

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