Sunday, April 10, 2011

Careful (1992)


Written by Guy Maddin & George Toles
Directed by Guy Maddin

Johann...Brent Neale
Grigorss...Kyle McCulloch
Klara...Sarah Neville
Zenaida...Gosia Dobrowolska

Deep in the Alpine mountains, way back in the turn of the century, lies the sleepy little village of Tolzbad.  Being a very small and very isolated community, the Tolzbadians have developed traditions all their own, peculiar to the area.  For starters, everyone must speak very quietly and refrain from any sudden movements, as the threat of an epic avalanche is always there.  Secondly, they remove the vocal chords of any and every animal that they can reach, for similar reasons.  Thirdly, they stake the recently dead through the heart before burial, for fear of vampirism (although that fear is never actually given a name).

We are concerned here primarily with one particular family, a truly disfunctional pre-nuclear unit:  Zenaida, the lustful and easily swayed mother; Franz, the mute invalid son who is kept hidden in the locked attic, and who is visited by the blind ghost of his fallen father; Yohann, a second son, who desires his own mother to the point where he slips her a "Love Potion" (actually something a little closer to a date rape drug); and Grigorrs, who is probably closest to normal...despite his affection for his brother's fiance, and a perhaps murderous impulse that he struggles to keep inside.

There are a plethora of 'Small Towns With Dirty Secrets' in everything from books (Stephen King's Castle Rock stories), television (Twin Peaks), and films (Blue Velvet).  I've always rather enjoyed these entries, because it explores the seedy underbelly of a world that we all know so well, rather than one in which we have no true experience in.  I have seen plenty of them in my life, but never have I seen one quite like Careful.

In recent years, it has become de rigeur to emulate films from the past, primarily the exploitation pictures of the 1970s and occasionally the home video horrors of the 1980s.  Years before this became the trend, however, Careful went much farther back into the past--and much farther across the globe--for its inspiration.  And what a strange animal it is, too:  A 1990s Canadian German Expressionism film.

Utilizing all the techniques of those classic films--odd and impossible angles, hand-tinted frames, strong shadows and startling silhouettes--Careful becomes an art project that is all the more special because we are so far removed from the source.  Ti West turned plenty of heads with his throwback House of the Devil because he bought some old Walkmans and crimped the hair of a starlet or two.  But writer-director Guy Maddin tucks us under his arm and drags us, kicking and screaming, to a time we have (literally) only heard about in movies.

A beautifully disturbing examination of lust, jealousy, honor and tradition.  Even if you're not a fan of the film, once it starts rolling, it's damn near impossible to look away.

Not Rated
100 Minutes

"God has left this mountain to the devil. We have all joined his unholy dance."

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