Culture  A “carte blanche” on the silver screen

Montreal’s Goethe-Institut presents a film series curated by Guy Maddin

Maybe you’ve heard of Guy Maddin. Some call him the David Lynch of Canada, others are appalled at the comparison. His deranged vision of the world, as showcased through his films, marks him as one of the unique and eccentric filmmakers in our nation’s history, and certainly one of the most internationally recognized in the world today.

Drawing inspiration from dead cinematic styles – mostly in the form of silent films from the German Expressionist, Soviet propagandist, and early Hollywood eras – Maddin’s films affectionately recreate, transform, and repurpose the history of cinema. Instead of producing nostalgia for the industry’s bygone era, like in Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, Maddin’s films offer a hallucinatory, degraded, and perverted vision of the past that unabashedly recalls personal childhood experiences.

As Maddin’s work has always defied the restrictions of genre. His latest effort, Keyhole, can best described as a surrealist, sadomasochistic gangster and ghost family melodrama. The film started making the festival rounds last year, but a wide release date has yet to be confirmed. In the meantime, you can get your fill of silent era vixens and degraded images at the Goethe-Institut’s “Carte Blanche to Guy Maddin.”
The Goethe-Institut, conveniently located a mere 15 minutes from McGill’s downtown campus, promotes German art and culture, while also encouraging artistic and intellectual exchange between Germany and Canada. Their “Carte Blanche to Guy Maddin” is part of a series of events in celebration of the institution’s 50th anniversary. For the event, the Goethe-Institut will be screening eight lesser-known classic films from the German canon curated by Maddin. The Goethe-Institut has described the selection as “an exciting, eclectic and savant list of obscure, silent German films and forgotten melodramas by the likes of Max Ophüls and Fritz Lang.”

Maddin, a Winnipeg native with Icelandic and Scottish ancestry, may seem an unlikely choice to curate a German film event. Yet Maddin’s oeuvres display a deep passion for, and familiarity with, German writing and film – some of his work could even be mistaken for. “When I watch the great German films, I get the absurd feeling I could have made them, if only I had lived in another time and been blessed with the blunt trauma genius of the masters featured in this program,” Maddin wrote of his selection process for the Carte Blanche.

Aside from the already-mentioned works by Ophüls and Lang, the Carte Blanche will feature other, lesser-known films by popular German directors. One of the highlights is Nerves by Robert Reinert, a silent film from 1919 that was reconstructed from film fragments by the Munich Film Museum. Created right at the birth of the Expressionist movement, Nerves documents post-war Germany in its “nervous epidemic” of social madness. Similarly, G. W. Pabst’s Les Mystères d’Une Ame is a study of the psyche – following a man’s spiral into insanity through feverish nightmares – based specifically on Freud’s influential theories and made with the help of some of his collaborators.

The event will end its two-month run with screenings of Maddin’s Archangel and Careful, both made earlier in his career, and emblematic of his distinct style. The films are set in, and pay homage to, Civil-War-torn Russia and a mid-century German mountain village, respectively. Both explore questions of memory, history, the nation and, true to Maddin’s form, repressed sexuality and incestuous relationships.
The “Carte Blanche to Guy Maddin” is dark stuff indeed, but it is stuff common to the human experience. In the words of Maddin, “no matter where the German went with his camera, no matter who starred in his stuff, the blood always ran dark. . . There’s a literature in these films, without any of them being remotely bookish. It’s the blood of the Walsungs. I could drink it all!”