Brand Upon The Brain! Tonight at the Wexner Center
Brand Upon The Brain!
by Michael Paull
Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain! is a treat for those who enjoy experimental cinema. Shot as a silent film for display with live music, narration and sound effects, the June 2007 theatrical release that the Wexner Center will be presenting tonight includes narration by Isabella Rossellini. To call the film unique doesn’t quite make the point: at once engrossing and challenging, produced in a powerfully historical way but unmistakably modern, this is a cinematic experience tailored to those looking for something completely different than everything else they’ll see this year.
The plot is beautifully surreal, but not without a disturbing aftertaste. The main character, Guy Maddin (Erik Steffen Maahs), returns to the island where his parents ran a nefarious orphanage in a lighthouse when he was a young boy. As he paints the lighthouse to fulfill his mother’s dying wish, the poetry of the production and narration draw the audience into his memories of his childhood on the island: a hyper-sexual tale of his mad-scientist father and youth-crazed mother, a teen detective’s lesbian trysts with Guy’s cruel older sister, and a messianic uprising among the orphans.
The acting, direction and production are all spot on, and the effect is just interesting enough to convince you to suspend your disbelief and take it all seriously. Brand Upon The Brain! manages to squeeze all of the psychological melodrama out of the silent format possible without feeling like a historical experience. The narration may induce an eye-roll now and then, and you may wince at Guy’s mother’s manic expressions of passion towards her young son, but you’ll do it all from the edge of your seat.
Brand Upon The Brain! isn’t for everyone. The artistry of the film is well done but indulgent, it begins to drag along a bit at the end, and the building sense that it is all going somewhere interesting falls in on itself disappointingly at the end. However, film buffs in search of something odd to start off the Autumn season with and fans of Maddin’s techniques and world view looking to whet their appetites for My Winnipeg, which is currently impressing critics at the Toronto International Film Festival, won’t be let down.