The Film: Careful (1992)

The Principals: Guy Maddin (director)

The Premise: There is a secluded mountain town where the dangers of avalanches are so acute that all denizens need to be perfectly quiet at all times. Dogs have their vocal chords cut so their barks make no sound; windows must be muffled with sheepskin if you wish to dance. Our story centers on a family: the father was blinded in one eye as an infant (“You should never hold a baby’s face near an open pin.”) then blinded in the other eye as an adult by a cuckoo clock, then he accidentally stumbled off a cliff and died. Now his wife is left to raise three boys: Franz, the oldest, is mute and sits all day sulking in the attic; the younger boys, Grigorss and Johann, are both in butler school (and very excited about it; butler school is prestigious). Johann gets engaged to Klara, but suddenly finds himself with a raging Oedipal complex for his mother. He drugs her, cuts off her clothes with garden sheers, kisses her, and then in his horrible shame he burns his lips shut with a hot coal. The ghost of the dad returns to warn Franz that… well, it just keeps getting nuttier.

Is It Good: This film can’t really be described as “good” or “bad,” it exists on its own eldritch plain where such labels serve no meaning. There are weird filmmakers… and then there’s Guy Maddin. For those unfamiliar with Maddin or his bonkers work (Sissy Boy Slap Party, Tales of the Gimli Hospital), he’s a Canadian writer/director with a fetish for ancient filmmaking equipment, aesthetics, and techniques. His movies look like old silent films, and not in that Call of Cthulhu way, where it looks like people from 2005 aping a silent film – his movies look legitimately ancient. Careful was shot in two-color Technicolor (which was replaced by three-color Technicolor roughly 70 years ago), and the sets are claustrophobic and papier-mâché. It looks weird and wonderful. The tone is pure insanity – a comedy, intentionally so, but it doesn’t have jokes exactly. It’s just SO weird that everything line, plot point, every shot can elicit a laugh… or not…

Is It Worth A Look: I’ll say this… In the long list of films that I try to get friends to watch, that they demand I turn off midway through, none have been shut off by popular demand more than Careful. Even people I know who are self-professed lovers of strange cinema have problems with Careful. You might actually love it for about twenty minutes, but eventually the weirdness will likely consume you, then bore you. The heightened tone is probably best suited for a short film, yet I dig it all the same – Maddin’s style is hypnotic. All film fans should give Maddin a good ol’ college try and see if they can hang. He is something of an acquired taste.

As the narrator of Careful might say, “Caution!”

Random Anecdote: The film came about after Maddin took a trip to the mountains and decided he wanted to make a mountain film. His co-writer, George Toles, wanted to make a pro-incest film. A peanut butter and chocolate moment of synergy ensued! Also, Maddin desperately wanted to get controversial German mountain-film (and possible Nazi) star Leni Riefenstahl out of retirement to appear in the film, but couldn’t get the budget together to afford her.