Berlin Film Festival Diary: The Guy Maddin Enigma

February 21, 2018
The revered filmmaker premiered two new works at Berlinale.

Guy Maddin must be an interesting sort of a guy. He certainly makes interesting cinema. He doesn’t just make films of course, along with his collaborators Evan and Galen Johnson, he has made art installations. As he showed in his early semi autobiographical piece My Winnipeg he was always chafing at his small town Canadian roots. In a way his rebellion has been the well spring of his creative energy.

It is fair to say that he sometimes exhausts us, and there are elements of self-indulgence in some of his work, but, in another way, his weakness is part of his strength.

He has two works in this year‘s Berlinale; one is a 60 minute featurette called The Green Fog. The other, to be shown at the same time, is an experimental short running for ten minutes (so he has two bites of the cherry and comes in around a feature length). The short is called Accidence and it shows him once again pushing the boundaries in a novel way. What he has given us is almost a new cinematic form. We open with a static, mid distance wide shot of a block of apartments. It is an innocuous opening and we wonder when the camera will start to probe and roam. Instead, slowly we learn to pick out little details and bits of action. Behind one set of screens is what seems like a loop from King Kong, with the ape descending a staircase and glimpsed at different floors. Just as our eyes are adjusting, we see in another part of the tableaux, a man being pushed off a balcony, presumably to his death. It is a Rear Window moment. The sense of shock and mystery is soon overwhelmed though by other incessant small details as our eyes cannot help but scan and select. There are several possible narratives on display, and because of our vantage point, they are all available to us simultaneously. It is a dizzying but strangely hypnotic watch.

In a way it is fitting that it is only ten minutes long because it demands something of the viewer, seeing as how there are half a dozen films crammed into it. How this will be shown and how it will fit with conventional programming is a moot point perhaps. However, you get the sense that Maddin would not be too fussed about this. Like any artist he sees it as his job to create and explore. The rest is up to us.

For more on Berlinale, head to the website.


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