|Jason Patric in "Keyhole." (Atelier Tovar/Monterrey Media )|
A house is not a home -- or is it?
‘Keyhole” is the first Guy Maddin movie that feels as if it got only halfway out of the director’s head and onto the screen.
On the surface, it’s another of the Canadian filmmaker’s gonzo-retro psychodramas like “The Saddest Music in the World” (2003) and “My Winnipeg” (2007) — works that meticulously re-create the look of battered silent features and early talkies in the service of melodramatic surrealism. (If you’ve never seen a Maddin film, imagine David Lynch directing “The Artist” and you’re roughly in the right neighborhood.) When it all clicks, his movies can be hilarious and profoundly, mysteriously moving. “Keyhole” is the first that’s merely noisy.
It’s part 1930s crime film, part haunted-house spookshow, part inquisition into the psychology of architecture. Jason Patric works up a decent Bogart imitation as Ulysses Pick, a gangster who has been brought to bay in his childhood home with assorted gunmen and gun molls; the cops are outside but the real threat’s within. Somewhere at the top of the house is Ulysses’s long-lost wife, Hyacinth (Maddin regular Isabella Rossellini), locked in a room with her naked, chained father (Louis Negin), who also narrates. To reach her, the hero has to negotiate treacherous confederates and dark rooms filled with memories.
That’s right, the movie’s a reverie/remake of “The Odyssey,” with additional inspiration taken from “The Poetics of Space,” Gaston Bachelard’s classic 1958 tome on the way we fill our living spaces with private emotions. While that’s a fascinating notion on paper, the film itself is as cluttered and overstuffed as the house it depicts — it’s a tale told by a hoarder. Plot has never been the point of Maddin’s work, yet his movies still possess a beguilingly linear dream-logic, and they can be inexplicably funny. In “Keyhole,” the pieces are thrown together without humor or purpose — the setting’s the thing — and Maddin keeps detouring into nightmare sequences that quickly turn wearying.
Back on the ground floor, Ulysses contends with two hostages, one a trussed-up young man (David Wontner) who may be his son and the other a lovely, lively woman (Brooke Palsson) who, contrary to appearances, has recently died from drowning. The gangsters are a colorful lot pulled equally from the Warner Brothers back lot and the Joseph Campbell playbook, and Olivia Rameau is particularly amusing as a sardonic French tootsie. These scenes feel like they’re going somewhere — Sigmund Freud’s version of “The Petrified Forest,” maybe — but “Keyhole” keeps getting sucked back into the abstract darkness upstairs.
It’s more Rorschach test than movie, and it shows Maddin trying, without complete success, to push his art in new directions. At best, “Keyhole” is a transitional work. At worst, it’s an interesting misfire by a filmmaker wholly intent on pursuing his vision.