Brand Upon the Brain!
"Wondrously strange, gleefully preposterous. A must see." (Chicago Tribune)
Hailing from Winnipeg, Guy Maddin can be very artsy (Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary) and quite funny (The Saddest Music in the World). He often shoots on super 8 film, fitting his style to the medium, emulating silent films and home movies.
The film is narrated by Isabella Rossellini, and there are also intertitles telling the story from another point of view. The movie is about a character named Guy Maddin At the request of his aging mother, Guy returns to the island where he grew up to give the old lighthouse two coats of paint.
Setting foot on the island, Guy remembers a particular summer that had all the makings of a golden, nostalgic tale worthy of Stand By Me or The Wonder Years. Celebrities came to visit the island. Guy got his first crush. He learned about boys and girls through his sister's summer fling. Guy genuinely wants the magical summer promised by young adult fiction. He wants it as a child, and he wants it as an adult poring over his memories. But Guy is too honest to have the fantasy, and his psychotic mother ruins everything, both at time and in his memory.
The island is a home for orphans, and Guy's mother is in charge. The children are allowed all over the island, but from her seat in the lighthouse, Guy's mother can see everywhere.It's too bad for Guy that his mother is such an archetypally Freudian, anal-retentive, domineering, youth-obsessed bundle of neuroses. But she makes Brand Upon the Brain! a damned interesting movie.
Several examples stick out as profound, disturbing, and insightful. When Guy gets his first crush, the title card reads "Profane joy." Guy is barely at puberty and already joy has been tainted. Mother bathes in turpentine to wash away the sin. She reminds her children as they head out to play: "Dirt is Wrong!"
It's hard for Guy to have a "Wonder Years" summer with a germophobic, puritanical matriarch watching your every move from on high. What might have been a naive, joyous, titillating sense of sexual awakening instead just seems awkward and dirty.
Brand Upon the Brain! is unsatisfying but emotionally true. It's a counterpoint to feel-good stories with happy endings that are too easy. Brand Upon the Brain! makes you realize how ugly and complicated real people can be, especially compared to most fictional protagonists.
Brand Upon the Brain! is not escapism, but art. (M. Mapes, Movie Habit)
Brand Upon the Brain!
Sun September 16, 2007, 7:00 only, Muenzinger Auditorium
Canada, 2006, English, B&W, 95 min, unrated, 35mm, 1.85:1 • official site