SXSW 2012: Keyhole and The Raid: Redemption

Keyhole never quite indulges in full-on abstraction.

SXSW 2012: Keyhole and The Raid: Redemption
Photo: SXSW

Guy Maddin’s Keyhole may be the Canadian auteur’s first film shot in high-definition digital video, but that doesn’t mean that he’s suddenly going against his usual backward-looking style. He announces his intentions right at the beginning with a dizzying montage of shots of the interiors of an empty Victorian house, intermingling images of dreamlike fantasy with other images of gangsters from some gangster-movie past inhabiting one of the rooms—all the while a narrator ruminates in voiceover on the possibilities of memory and history haunting this patch of real estate long after its inhabitants have left this Earth. These images flicker at us at a rapid clip, like the quicksilver rhythms of the mind—in this case, a playful sensibility that’s nevertheless infused with regret at opportunities missed, lives thrown away, human connections not formed.

Keyhole never quite indulges in full-on abstraction, however. Maddin’s movie-movie exploration of the intersections of memory and architecture is grounded in a loose Odyssey-like narrative—devised by Maddin and co-writer George Toles—about a gangster named Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) who invades this particular home to try to reach his wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), who’s locked in a room with her brother (Louis Negin), naked and in chains. Maddin’s narrative, such as it is, hints at not only marital discord, but familial discord as well: Ulysses’s son, Manners (David Wontner), spends most of the film gagged and tied to a chair; tellingly, his own father fails to recognize him as his own flesh and blood. All the while, Ulysses’s gangster cronies carouse the night away while his boss goes on his memory vision quest; their boredom, resentment, and frustration seem to grow by the minute. Oh, and it’s suggested early on that some of these characters are real and others are ghosts.

There’s much more to this film than that, believe it or not—and yet, in some ways, the complications of its narrative ultimately don’t matter quite as much as the intoxicating feeling the film engenders of layers of memory opening up before one’s own eyes, all bathed in Benjamin Kasulke’s lustrous black-and-white cinematography and the director’s expected penchant for classical-Hollywood visual tropes. As is often the case with Maddin’s work, it’s best to sit back and let this film just wash over you, irrational images and all. Keyhole is a beautiful mess, a mesmerizing id-spilling tour down a rabbit hole of memory and loss that has the power to resonate with you in indescribable ways long after the ride is over.

Rooms and hallways also figure prominently in the Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption, though mostly as novel settings for a breakneck stream of virtuoso martial-arts set pieces, all choreographed and performed with a balletic grace the recalls Hong Kong cinema’s glory years and edited with a precision that seems almost quaint in this era of queasy-cam and incoherent ADD cutting. If anything, Gareth Evans’s film might have benefited from full-on abstraction; the few half-hearted stabs toward character drama and social commentary never really add up to anything especially involving (police corruption predictably plays a big role down the stretch, when we discover that the hero played by Iko Uwais has his own personal side mission that collides with the titular raid). Mostly, The Raid: Redemption exhilarates as sheer spectacle, much of the joy of the film coming in the gleeful freedom of imagination on display in the various ways everyday objects are turned into lethal weapons and the human figures in this hellish landscape are forced to rely on sheer physical strength and wit to stay alive. There really isn’t much else to say about the film except that, well, if you want to see a lot of inventive kick-ass action, this film will thoroughly satisfy—nothing more, nothing less.

SXSW runs from March 9—18.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door.

Kenji Fujishima

Kenji Fujishima is a film and theater critic, general arts enthusiast, and constant seeker of the sublime. His writing has also appeared in TheaterMania and In Review Online.

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