Careful (1992)
Directed by Guy Maddin

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * *

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Two brothers live with their widowed mother in an alpine village where everyone is instructed to be careful about making noise, as any loud sound could trigger an avalanche. This quiet, subdued world is, however, soon filled with violence and conflict when one of the brothers develops a voyeuristic interest in his mother and she begins a relationship with a local aristocrat. The complex, melodramatic tale that ensues from these events is enlivened with various overwrought themes and incidents, including incest, betrayal, oedipal jealousy, and murder, and with numerous humorous touches, such as a man blinded by a cuckoo clock, quirky depictions of a school for butlers, and various elements of slapstick.

Careful, Guy Maddin's best effort to date, is a visually beautiful, inventive, and stylized work, distinguished from the director's other movies not by its differences from them, but simply by being better done.

From its first moment until its last, Maddin's film presents to the viewer a whimsical hallucinatory realm of often striking loveliness. With its deliberately artificial and strangely distorted sets, Careful borrows extensively from German Expressionist films of the 1920s and conjures up the same sort of weird, dreamlike landscapes that can be found in such films. Having so made manifest a chimerical, mythic universe distinct from that of ordinary experience, Maddin enhances the otherworldliness of these peculiar places by bathing them in brilliant, beautiful pastel colors created by using two strip Technicolor. The effect the director achieves with these various devices is not only visually stunning but so distances the actions of his characters from those of daily life that they are infused with a real legendary quality.

What is more, the movie's poignancy is even further heightened by its unique aural qualities. The actors recite their lines in the precise, intentionally artificial manner commonly found in Maddin's films. In Careful, this style is particularly effective. The exactness and formality of the spoken words prevent the viewer from mistaking them for everyday speech. The dialogue, consequently, becomes a sort of litany and helps to transform the characters' actions into rituals disconnected from the ordinary world. This liminality, in turn, constantly reminds the moviegoer that the reality of the film, though related to the waking world, remains distinct, like that of the realms of dream or legend.

Admittedly, when I was first exposed to the director's work, I did not care for the style of delivery he prefers his actors to use when speaking their lines, but I have come to enjoy it, as it does come close to the style I myself would prefer to hear more often in film. In fact, it is the very closeness of his style to, or, rather, its slight difference from, what I prefer that perhaps displeased me at first. Whatever my initial reactions, I have come to appreciate the director's conventions and do feel that they add to his film's merit.

In Careful Guy Maddin reveals to the viewer a strange, hallucinatory world of distorted colors and shapes. He evokes some peculiar, almost mythic universe and, by doing so, gives the film a profundity and directness that a more realistic presentation could never convey.

Review by Keith Allen

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