Bend the Knee
The story Maddin relates is typical of those he prefers. It is overwrought, melodramatic, and filled with a variety of weird details. He presents an intense, lurid world of ardent emotions, burning sexuality, surreal confusion, and excessive violence. The effect is feverish and mesmerizing. The director reveals how Guy is overcome with lust for Meta, how the man (seemingly possessed by some spirit residing in Chas's putative hands) goes on to commit murders for her sake, and how, when that woman has his hands cut off, Guy sinks into despair and brings about a bizarre private apocalypse. The viewer, though he will surely be captivated by the events of this wild, savage tale, is likely to find himself even more immersed in the movie as a result of the various peculiar details Maddin has included in it. Besides the odd conceit that the whole of the story occurs within a drop of ejaculate, the director incorporates into his tale a ghost, a wax museum in the rafters of a hockey arena, a match with a Soviet hockey team, a maple leaf shaped pool of blood formed by that draining from Veronica's genitals after her botched abortion, and more. Even the realistic elements of the film, such as a scene in which a prostitute services a client while her baby lies beside her, add to its poignancy.
Happily, Cowards Bend the Knee is as appealing visually as it is narratively. Maddin, as he often does, draws on film techniques from the 1920s and earlier, thereby creating a rarefied spectacle that conjures up some magical, often dimly seen black and white world distinct from that of ordinary experience. By so presenting this unique universe, one with which the viewer can engage as it is in itself, Maddin allows the emotions of the inhabitants of this place to be experienced in all their raw purity. What is more, there is not a moment of the movie during which the viewer will not be bewitched by the images themselves.
Cowards Bend the Knee is a worthy addition to Maddin's oeuvre. It is thoroughly enjoyable, visually and narratively.
Review by Keith Allen
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