Guy Maddin’s movies exist on a bizarre dreamscape, but they also retain a certain disarming familiarity. Everything original about Maddin’s surreal black-and-white excursions come with a simultaneous reference to the movies that inspired him, particularly silent cinema and sultry film noirs. His latest effort, “Keyhole,” culls not only from those same influences but from Maddin’s existing filmography, from “Tales from the Gimli Hospital” to “The Saddest Music in the World.” Even by those standards, “Keyhole” never comes together, but that’s part of Maddin’s creed. He makes movies about movies to express his love for movies, which is to say he makes movies about himself.
The free-associative “Keyhole” follows a 1940’s gangster cliché with family issues named Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) literally battling through the memories locked within his old home. Arriving in a hail of gunfire, he journeys to his estranged wife (Isabella Rossellini), a fierce woman hiding in the shadows of the top floor with Ulysses’ tortured father; meanwhile, his late son has seemingly risen from the grave. That’s enough to keep “Keyhole” moving forward with spooky pastiche galore, flash cuts and ghostly fades, Freudian symbolism and a playful B-movie mentality meshed with excessive melodrama apparently gushing straight from the filmmaker’s psyche–and the movies that inspired him to explore it.
While Maddin’s craftsmanship and use of playful metaphor in “Keyhole” lack the same coherence of his earlier films, not to mention the deeply involving first-person voice of his quasi-documentary “My Winnipeg,” the new movie still demonstrates how cinema informs Maddin’s view of the world. Every moving image in “Keyhole” is simultaneously Maddinean and, for that same reason, a savvy quotation device.
However, while consistent in his unique manner of culling from the past, Maddin’s movies also demonstrate a larger tendency among filmmakers to tell new stories based on the ones they have seen before. I mean that differently from the protocol of the proverbial “movie brats” (Spielberg, et al) whose love for childhood spectacles led them to make their own. Maddin and his ilk don’t try to replace their memories with fresh product; their movies are like shrines.
“Keyhole” isn’t the only new release hailing from the amorphous genre best described as “nostalgia cinema”; another marginalized release uses a very different set of reference points to tell a similarly tense family drama, with a narrative logic that makes “Keyhole” look like a wholesome version of the genres it references.
Entitled “Your Brother. Remember,” the filmed version of performance artist Zachary Oberzan’s acclaimed one-man show (opening at Brooklyn’s reRun Gastropub this weekend) explores his longstanding affection for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. More specifically, however, Oberzan shows how Van Damme’s “Kickboxer” and “Faces of Death” provided a vessel for coming to terms with his estranged brother over the course of their parents’ messy divorce and, later, his brother’s incarceration and drug addiction.
But Oberzan, whose resourceful approach was last seen onscreen with the remarkable “Rambo: First Blood” adaptation “Flooding with Love for the Kid” (in which the actor played every role and staged the entire movie in his apartment), doesn’t simply lay out his agenda.
Instead, “Your Brother. Remember?” erratically jumps between three equally beguiling layers of narrative: Oberzan, on a blank stage doing his best Van Damme impersonation, discusses his longtime feud with older brother Eric; these absurd monologues alternate with 20-year-old footage of the teen Oberzan recreating scenes from the aforementioned Van Damme cult hits with his shirtless brother in the lead role. A final twist on the meta approach find Oberzan staging new reenactments of the reenactments with the same family cast, a high concept means of reconciling with his drug-addled sibling.
The multiple strands at first create a highly chaotic experience, but around the half-hour mark of the hourlong running time, “Your Brother. Remember” suddenly clicks as a dual statement of affection for movies and family bonds, leading to a unique portrait that suggests “Be Kind Rewind” by way of “Tarnation.”
Beneath its ridiculous exterior, Oberzan’s highly personal video essay struggles with the connection between entertainment and life, grasping for the conclusion that they’re ultimately indistinguishable. As his brother eventually explains in a late act confession, Oberzan’s professional acting forms a kind of “sanctioned” performance, while the older man’s attempts to bury his drug habit represents acting as a survival tactic.
The performance involved in reenacting their favorite JCVD moments, then, symbolizes a merging of the two extremes. As “Your Brother. Remember?” builds to its emotional climax, Oberzan’s diary-film-homage-home-video-whatchit reaches a thrilling cohesion. Their playacting elevates the cheesy dialogue to profound heights, proving that there’s no such thing as guilty pleasures for the people who love them.
“Your Brother. Remember?”: A-
Watch the trailers for “Keyhole” and “Your Brother. Remember?” below: