The movies of the determinedly eccentric Guy Maddin evoke nostalgia for a cinema that never was -- an intersection of silent-movie tropes, the clumsy navigation of early sound cinema, pre-boil steam-punk aesthetics, subtitling that seems translated (badly) from the Japanese, all of which are brought together in a way that possesses a barely contained level of hysteria. To synopsize what he's doing in "The Forbidden Room" is impossible, and wouldn't make much sense, but suffice to say he has now added elements of '70s disaster movies and antique porn to his usual catalog of references to German neo-expressionism, the melodrama of D.W. Griffith and the tortured film stock of Jack Smith's "Flaming Creatures."
If that sounds like a lot, it is. Too much, in fact. Maddin has made some films -- "Tales From Gimli Hospital" and "Archangel," for instance -- that approached the sublime, despite the eras and techniques he is both using/lampooning in his movies.
"The Forbidden Room" begins with a mysterious woodsman walking through the hatch of a distressed submarine where the sailors are sucking oxygen out of their morning flapjacks ("Hopeless men, hopelessly chewing," reads one ornate title). Then it moves into a sequence involving brain surgery, accompanied by a British art-rock ensemble singing, "A little bit off the top . . . " Interesting yes, but if a viewer is looking for a towline of narrative to stay starboard of the submarine, he or she will be out of luck.
At the same time, it has always seemed that Maddin's films should be considered part of an ongoing whole, rather than as distinctly and often delightful parts. In addition to the manly hero Cesare (Roy Dupuis) and damsel-in-distress/frequent amnesiac Margot (Clara Furey), Geraldine Chaplin, Charlotte Rampling, Udo Kier and French star Mathieu Amalric make appearances, though none distracts from Maddin's mission, a journey into the heart of marginalia.