BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! (Guy Maddin). 95 minutes. Opens Friday (June 8) at the Cumberland. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Childhood's a scary place, full of secret pacts, feverish obsessions and what seem at the time like life-and-death situations. Guy Maddin captures all those and more in his unclassifiable but hugely entertaining Brand Upon The Brain!
The quasi-autobiographical black-and-white silent film opens with a man named Guy Maddin ( Erik Steffen Maahs ) being summoned mysteriously by his (dead?) mother ( Gretchen Krich ) to his childhood home, a lighthouse that used to be an orphanage. His mom wants Guy to whitewash the lighthouse -- get the symbolism? But memories involving murder, cross-dressing and the titular brain-tampering keep flooding in.
Maddin's use of the conventions of silent film -- titles, a narrator, multiple flashbacks -- effectively capture the joys and nightmares of the past. He fully understands the hypnotic power that moving images, combined with a suggestive score (by Jason Staczek ), have on our psyches.
The result is funny, absorbing and even moving. It's stylized, but there's real heart beneath the style, not postmodern ironic winking. Unlike so many movies these days, the film remains so mysterious that it invites a second and third viewing.
Note: Sullivan Brown , who plays Maddin as a child, resembles the misunderstood kid from The 400 Blows yet also really looks like he could grow up into the filmmaker. How cool is that?