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Posted by martinteller on September 22, 2012

The gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) meets up with his crew at his home.  It’s an odd house, with outdoor portions and hidden passages… to say nothing of the many ghosts who inhabit it.  Ulysses is on a quest to reach his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), who is locked up in a room and accessible only via keyhole.  Also, her naked father Calypso (Louis Negin) is chained to her bed.  Ulysses has in tow a blind woman who can read his thoughts and recently either nearly drowned or actually drowned.  Then there’s the bound and gagged hostage (David Wontner) who also happens to be the son Ulysses doesn’t recognize.  And a bicycle-powered electric chair.

Sounds nuts, right?  This is what Guy Maddin calls his first stab at “narrative filmmaking”, a noirish retelling of the Ulysses saga… or rather (as Maddin claims), the Wikipedia entry of the Ulysses saga.  And to be honest, it is his most straightforward movie, although that’s not saying much.  The narrative is there, but it’s elliptical and obfuscated.  Also, surprisingly snoozy.  With a significant reduction in Maddin’s usual rapid edits and jittery camerawork, the film takes on a sleepy quality.  Perhaps it’s too repetitive… which isn’t to say there isn’t always something new and odd happening, but it seems to be spinning its wheels a lot nonetheless.

The visuals are toned down, with less of the silent expressionist era feel and more of a film noir feel.  Of course, that’s noir filtered through Maddin, where light sources come from impossible places and move in unlikely directions.  There are some fun bits of humor, like the hilarious bit involving Kevin McDonald (Maddin returning to the “Kids in the Hall” well after casting Mark McKinney in Saddest Music in the World) attempting to get it on with one of the ghosts.  The film really could have used more of that to jazz it up.  It is an odd movie in the unmistakably Maddin idiom, it just doesn’t seem to have enough life in it.  The mysteries of the film were intriguing to a certain extent, but it needed to be either a lot more strange or a lot less.  This middle ground wasn’t working for me.  Rating: Fair (67)


4 Responses to “Keyhole”

  1. JamDenTel said

    I probably need to give this one another shot, but I too found the pacing problematic and thought it just seemed incoherent. Lovely music and cinematography, though.

    Side note: At just under $23,000, this is probably the lowest-grossing film I’ve ever seen in a theater.

  2. “Incoherent” kinda comes with the territory when you’re dealing with Maddin.

    Not sure what the lowest-grossing film I’ve seen in a theater is. Off the top of my head, I’m going to guess DIALOGUES WITH MADWOMEN ($77,789).

  3. Hunter said

    Thanks for posting your review of Keyhole, Martin. I went online and rented Keyhole before leaving my office at DISH. It was on my Hopper DVR, ready to watch, by the time I walked in my door. I haven’t seen any other Maddin films, so I don’t have much to base Keyhole against. I guess calling it an interesting film would be an injustice. This movie was straight up weird. The acting and cinematography were both well done, but I think there was something lost in the story. As art house films go, Keyhole isn’t bad, but it isn’t something I would watch for entertainment.

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