Saturday, April 09, 2016

Honourable Mention: The Forbidden Room

Do you like arthouse movies? If the answer is no, you may want to move on.

The Forbidden Room is a creation by auteur Guy Maddin (the IMDb credits suggest that it is co-directed by Evan Johnson but that is only a section called “How to Take a Bath”) and was released in 2015. We have previously looked at Maddin’s films Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary and Brand Upon the Brain! Like those films, this owes much to silent movies – though there is certainly spoken dialogue in this. It is absurdist, psychedelic and bizzare and (to quote Jonathan Romney from the booklet that comes with the UK dual Blu-Ray/DVD) “this isn’t so much a film as an encyclopedic compendium of cinematic possibilities”.

Margot sings
So, why the honourable mention? After Marv (Louis Negin) tells us How to Take a Bath and we start to strip the layers of the film, meeting the crew of the submarine the SS Plunger, followed by the tale of the Saplingjacks who look to save the Vamp (in the silent movie sense) Margot (Clara Furey) from the Red Wolves Bandit Gang and then we end up seeing Margot’s story as an amnesiac. In a club she sings of the aswang, the jungle vampire.

Margot and Pancho
Later we see Margot as she is stalked by the aswang, its footsteps growing louder as the aswang moves away. This is a variant of the aswang type the tiktik, whose tiktik call sounds louder the further it is from its prey. Margot meets Pancho (Victor Andres Turgeon-Trelles) but he is not the real Pancho – who lies dead – but the aswang.

They return to her room and his scent triggers memory – his scent being sweet. He transforms into a peeled banana, the flesh blackened and is joined by a second and these are aswang bananas. Now this might seem quite surreal but vampire plants/fruit have a lineage – with fictional stories of vampire plants going back to the nineteenth century and vampire fruit being an alleged aspect of folklore (there is always the possibility that the locals were having the ethnologist, who recorded this, on).

the aswang bananas
That historian and ethnologist was Tatomir P. Vukanović and he related that amongst Slavic gypsies “there are only two plants which are regarded as likely to turn into vampires: pumpkins of every kind and watermelons.” (1957) Now, in this case the vampires are, of course, bananas but the principle is very similar. The appearance of the aswang bananas does not take too long – the whole scene is only a couple of minutes – and so this is a fleeting visitation in a film that will confound many but delight others.

The imdb page is here.

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