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CAREFUL (director/writer: Guy Maddin; screenwriter: George Toles/from a story by George Toles; cinematographer: Guy Maddin; editor: Guy Maddin; music: John McCulloch; cast: Kyle McCulloch (Grigorss), Gosia Dobrowolska (Zenaida), Sarah Neville (Klara Trotter), Paul Cox (Count Knotkers), Brent Neale (Johann), Victor Cowie (Herr Trotta), Michael O’Sullivan (Blind Ghost), Vince Rimmer (Franz), Katya Gardner (Sigleinde Trotter); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Greg Klymkiw/Tracy Traeger; Kino Video; 1992-Canada)
“A weirdly amusing parable of sexual repression.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Careful is Winnipeg writer-director Guy Maddin’s (“Tales from the Gimli Hospital”/”Archangel”) uniquely bizarre campy parody of the German expressionist silents such as “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari” and “Nosferatu.” It’s a low budget indie shot in the mode of those early German films with hand-tinted color sequences, inter-titles, and heavy use of melodramatic symbolism. Maddin creates from a story by George Toles a weirdly amusing parable of sexual repression, which Maddin declared as a pro-repression film. It’s an intriguing one-of-a-kind, over-the-top, visually dazzling film that aims to put a lost age of innocence under its microscope with scenes that include rape, incest, a deformed child who doesn’t speak kept in the attic, a blind ghost warning of doom and unrequited love.

It’s set in the remote 19th-century Alpine mountain village of Tolzbad, where children are warned to always be careful by their elders because every sound they make could trigger an avalanche. The vocal cords of animals are slit to stop them from making any unnecessary sounds. Everyone in this puritanical repressed village speaks in whispers and frets about unknown fears. There are other warnings given to the villagers such as “Never hold a baby’s face near an open pin,” “Never gamble with life” and “Don’t talk to strangers.”

The widowed mother of three sons, Zenaida (Gosia Dobrowolska), is resentful that she couldn’t marry the man she loved, Count Knotkers (Paul Cox), and married instead a man she couldn’t stand (Michael O’Sullivan), blinded as a baby when placed too close to a pin and later his other eye is taken when he was too close to a cuckoo clock, who now haunts her as a blind ghost as he’s in charge of raising his first-born son Franz (Vince Rimmer). Franz is detested by mom and kept in the attic, while her other two sons, Grigorss (Kyle McCulloch) and Johann (Brent Neale), she adores because during conception she thought only of the count. The two loved ones attend a butler training school, but after Johann is granted permission to marry Klara (Sarah Neville) by her poor scientist father (Victor Cowie), he has an erotic dream and becomes so sexually fixated on his mother that he jumps to his death off the mountain–called an accidental death to relieve the family of further strain. Grigorss after he graduates from the butler school goes to work for the hermit Count Knotkers in his castle. Since the count’s beloved mother died, he now asks Zenaida to marry him and promotes Grigorss as his own son and presents him with a title. The twisted Grigorss doesn’t accept this and challenges the count to a duel. Meanwhile an impoverished Klara is forced to work in the mines, where only women clad in bloomers work, while her sister Sigleinde (Katya Gardner) refuses to get her hands dirty with work and lives a fanciful dirt-free life.

It leads to outbursts of Oedipal angst, sibling rivalry, loss of sanity and even murder–an emotional avalanche. Though not suited for everyone’s taste, it overwhelms the senses with its droll wit and magnificent cheesy sets drenched in old-time blue monochrome tints.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”