Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 100 min
Careful Pictures Inc.,
The Greg and Tracy Film Ministry
is one of the most visually striking films ever made in Canada. Shot entirely on studio sets and using an incredible range of tinted colour stocks and vivid full-colour processing, the film recaptures a departed era when cinema was still a glorious experiment. Some critics called it his most ambitious — but unsuccessful — film, whereas others felt it was his best work to date. Without question, Guy Maddin’s third feature, a sly, comic tug o’ war between desire, repression — and more repression — is a characteristically inventive and stylistically bold film from the intrepid director.
The film is situated in the 19th-century alpine town of Tolzbad where the townspeople live with the constant threat of avalanche. Undeniably, the film’s pièce de résistance is its opening frames, in which Herr Trota (Cowie) warns the folk of the dangers of making too much noise. Set against a sequence of disconcerting shots — from someone sneezing to babies and older people being muzzled and animals being killed to silence their cries — Herr Trota drones on: “Think twice. Peril awaits the uncautious wayfarer.”
Yet, even amidst this climate of extreme repression, the characters are unable to choke back their strange and fervent passions, finding themselves in an array of obsessive, incestuous, and ultimately, disastrous relationships. Young, handsome Johann (Neale) and his brother Grigorss (McCulloch) attend the local butler school as students of the sadistic Frau Teacher (Burroughs). Johann develops a guilty and unwholesome attraction to his mother (Dobrowolska), which inevitably leads to a bad end. Meanwhile, Grigorss courts Johann's former fiancée (Neville), a young woman locked in her own scandal of Oedipal desire. Their misguided paths set loose numerous emotional landslides.
Using intertitles and a deliberately scratchy soundtrack that evokes early Vitaphone, Careful plays like a 1920s talkie, and recalls the German expressionist and “mountain” films of the same era in a manner that is part lampoon, part homage. But Careful is also recognizably Maddin, from the deliberately cliché-ridden dialogue to the bizarre sets and costumes animated by the comic and perceptive performances of McCulloch and Neville (both Maddin regulars), Burroughs and the Australian director Paul Cox (Count Knotgers), all of whom manifestly enjoy the material — and get it.