Keyhole is a film by Guy Maddin. If one knows Guy Maddin then one knows precisely what this means. If one is not familiar with him then you will soon find out precisely what this means. To begin to get some sort of grasp of the significance of that statement you can visit either of the aforelinked posts. Now what precisely is Guy Maddin’s latest like?
Keyhole is a black & white, horror/comedy melodrama, which is a widening gyre that goes from a very cloistered, guarded tale and unwinds into one that is a rather effective and is nearly pantomime. The loop that the world revolves in and the roles these characters play, the unusual ways the characters behave in soon make themselves evident and as they do a seemingly fragmentary tale begins to tell other tales and history by implications.
With a film such as this, which is so unorthodox, the pacing thereof will be a precarious balancing act and a difficult thing to navigate, however, while not brisk the film does manage to move at a relatively steady pace. The incremental repetition of certain visual motifs and snatches of dialogue don’t bog the story down and serve as markers to an extent. One must also acknowledge that there will be a certain amount of disorientation that will need to be surmounted that also affects the speed of mental processing that this film requires.
Key to establishing the surreal and other-worldly tone that Maddin seeks in this film is the scoring, which is wonderful in this film. The score provides an anchor which keeps the film grounded in some sense of constancy and gravitas as the dialogue, images and scenes get all the more wilder as they are slowly unfurled and deciphered.
Another aspect that gives the film a sense of tempo is the edit. This is a film where you can almost predict the cuts by metronome. Here is where Maddin imbues the film with much of its frenetic energy. Surely, the pace of the cuts frequently belies the flow of the narrative, but it reaches a rather constant speed that pulls the story along with it. While such a discordant bit of technique may seem a distraction it mostly serves the film well as another steadying force.
The guardians of this arcane world that is partially occluded are the actors as they must do something very difficult, which is to play rather broad types but still resonate with the audience as people, transmit that they too are trying to uncover mysteries and/or not seem as they are obviously hiding something. With such affectations in the making of the film and stylizing in the narrative it can be most difficult for an actor to convey true emotions but the cast throughout manages quite well.
I find it important to seek reasons to justify the usage of color, even if the choice between color and black and white is a rather anachronistic one in this day and age, however, I hold the inverse true: if a film is shooting in black & white is it truly exploiting that choice; is it seeing and portraying a world that can only be conveyed monochromatically? Here I say the answer is an emphatic yes. There are tableaus and mise-en-scène designed the way they are because they fit a black & white landscape similarly many of the actors look like they were born to be shot in black & white.
Keyhole is not the most accessible film in the world but it is a nut that can be cracked with patience and focus, whether you know Maddin or not. Clearly, if you are familiar with him you’ll know what to expect better than most and your appreciation of it may be greater.