Reviewer: Nikki Baughan
Released: September 14
Director Guy Maddin Screenplay George Toles & Guy Maddin Stars Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Brooke Palsson
An elderly man, clad only in underpants, drags open a bedraggled lace curtain. ‘Remember, Ulysses’ intones a plaintive voiceover. As a storm rages, blending with the cracks of gunshots, a man carries a bedraggled girl towards an isolated house. Inside wait members of his gang, hiding out from the police, along with members of his family, some of whom he fails to recognise.
From the very opening of Guy Maddin’s black and white Greek tragedy-inspired tale of ghosts and gangsters, the experience is by turns intriguing, amusing and deeply frustrating. As Ulysses (an exceptionally good Jason Patric) and the disoriented girl (Brooke Palsson) roam the house, peering through keyholes and trying to locate his estranged wife Hyacinth (a deliciously camp Isabella Rossellini), the souls of the living and the dead intermingle to create a visual cacophony of despair. Everyone, whether living or dead, is trapped– some of them literally, as in the case of Hyacinth’s dead naked father who is chained to her bed, the pair locked in an intimate torment.
This torment is extended to the audience. Although Keyhole has a loose narrative of sorts, nothing is ever explicit and it resolutely resists all logic Just when you think you may have got a handle on what’s going on, it all slips away, like a shadow into the light. It seems to be about the desperate struggle for redemption and, as the allusions to Homer suggest, the need to return home—but Maddin has left it up to his audience to take from it what they will.
The film was commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, and should be regarded as a piece of modern art; perplexing, confusing and, to some, utterly incomprehensible. Those prepared to be swept along by its noirish visuals, stunning production design and strong performances may find some charm in its uniqueness; those determined to pin it down will end up as lost as Ulysses himself.