Gretchen Krich’s -meddling mom sees all in Brand Upon The Brain.
Brand Upon The Brain (Criterion, 2006) D: Guy Maddin, w/ Sullivan Brown, Maya Lawson. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNNN
In the accompanying booklet, critic Dennis Lim does a fine job of locating Brand Upon The Brain in director Guy Maddin's body of work and opening up his subject matter and style, which can be glibly thumbnailed as masochistic psychosexual horror expressed through a mutated silent movie sensibility.
In this instance, this means a wildly lurid story involving a teenage detective disguised as her twin brother in order to seduce our hero's sister, who's locked in a battle of wills with her massively controlling mother, who is dependent on the rejuvenating drug extracted from orphans by her mad-scientist husband, all seen through the anguished memory of our hero, who is not coincidentally named Guy Maddin.
It's a great mashup of American and European pulp. The Hardy Boys and B-movie elements are familiar, but look for echoes of master criminal Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1922) in the figure of Mother. Check out the boy detective in evening wear and domino mask to catch references to Fantômas (Louis Feuillade, 1913), while his sister is sometimes the image of Irma Vep (Feuillade's Les Vampires, 1915). Google Fantômas: the poster is great.
Maddin, the director, delivers all this via distressed b&w Super 8 film, fragmented images and a rhythmic but jagged cutting style that's occasionally hard on the eyes. It sounds arty, but it's highly accessible due to Jason Staczek's melodramatic score and Isabella Rossellini's warm voice on the narration. (If you don't like her, there are six other narration tracks to choose from, including ones by Laurie Anderson and Maddin himself).
In the excellent 50-minute making-of doc, Maddin talks extensively and frankly about his artistic and personal sources and his process. The film was shot on multiple Super 8 cameras in nine days. You'd never know it.
EXTRAS Seven narration tracks, making-of doc, two new short films, critical essay. Widescreen, b&w.