Cowards Bend the Knee

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Cowards Bend The Knee is another unique offering by Montreal-based auteur Guy Maddin (who features in this film as a fictitious character bearing his name). Maddin leavens his horror movie ambience with a lot of absurdist humor, offering a faux-silent acting style that allows the performers to strike exaggerated poses, heightening the impression of barely contained hysteria. With things at such a melodramatically surreal pitch, Maddin’s deadpan title cards seem pretty droll, my personal favorite being: “With Meta sent out on an errand, Liliom orders Guy to wax her legs.”

The film began as an art installation, a series of short film chapters viewed through separate peepholes. Assembled as a feature with its chapter-structure maintained, it runs just over 60 minutes. The film is silent, shot in black and white with a few blue-tinted scenes and, like every other Maddin movie, looks like the only existing print of a long lost film, halfway on its journey to serious deterioration.

Plotted in layers, the film’s almost linear narrative drips with suggestive subtexts. Taken at face value, a summary of the plot premise would go like this: When Guy Maddin, star hockey player of the Winnipeg Maroons, gets his girlfriend Veronica pregnant, he takes her to a creepy beauty parlor/bordello where an abortion is performed by the sinister Dr. Fusi. During the operation Guy meets and falls in love with Meta, whose mother owns the bordello. Meta isn’t smitten but figures she can use Guy in her plan to avenge the murder of her father, a scheme that involves grafting her dead daddy’s blue-dyed hand onto her unlucky suitor. After that things start to get pretty kinky.

Cowards, made between Maddin’s two most accomplished films, Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary and The Saddest Music in the World, pales in comparison to those and seems a minor work. Still, if you’ve ever responded to his singularly disjointed dream-visions, you’ll find much here to wallow in, even if a lot of it seems to evaporate after the film ends.

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), with the animated short The Phantom Musuem by the Brothers Quay, Monday, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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