Review of “Brand Upon the Brain!”

 
 

Maddin has said that the Grand Guignol horror genre that influences Brand! — "the gory, hysterical and horniest of melodramas," in his words — accurately describes his own childhood. He does give his own name to the protagonist, who suffers the cloying, suffocating love of a rather monstrous mother, a woman who goes as far as threatening suicide to ensure submissiveness in her children. In this light, the phrase "brand upon the brain" emerges as a likely reference to the wounds parental narcissism inflicts on children.

But the delightfulness of this film stems partly from the way it basks in ambiguity, making you suspend disbelief without even having to consider it. For instance, both the time period and location are vague, making it irrelevant whether the story is set in the past or present, somewhere close or far away.

And, of course, sexual ambiguity abounds. Wendy/Chance exhibits an androgynous appeal that makes it easy for Guy to transfer his hots for Wendy to Chance. It isn’t even clear precisely when Sis discovers that her sweetheart is Wendy in disguise; Sis may be in on the scheme from the start. And the sexual allusions throughout the film are oblique and fittingly adolescent, such as the swooning references to the nether regions of the female body as " Rumania !"

There is ambiguity even in how the story is recounted. The film’s narration and intertitles provide ironic counterpoint, illuminating alternate versions of the events by voicing a skewed viewpoint.

Maddin has said that he was inspired to have a narrator for Brand! after hearing about explicators in the early days of silent film; these narrators helped viewers follow the action of an unfamiliar new medium without being disoriented by the camera’s changing points of view. Then Maddin learned about Japanese benshi explicators, some of whom, Maddin explained on the film’s blog, "became stars in their own right, and often invented narratives that ran at cross-purposes to the story being told on screen."

In the end, Brand Upon the Brain! may be too bizarre for some viewers, particularly given the incestuous overtones. But those with a penchant for demented entertainment and a tolerance for exaggerated Oedipal fixations will be thoroughly delighted by this unique and thrilling film.

Watch the trailer for the film here:


For more information, including screening dates, visit branduponthebrain.com.

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