The Forbidden Door -- Film Review

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UDINE, Italy -- "The Forbidden Door" would make Hitchcock and Almodovar proud. Its protagonist, a sculptor who is both inspired and haunted by female reproduction, becomes hooked on a warped reality show that unlocks childhood secrets behind the 'forbidden door' in his own home.

Joko Anwar accessorizes his creepy suspense-horror with a dazzling array of auteur-homage, Freudian psychobabble, swanky art direction and a mellow '50s jazz score. So despite the Byzantine plot and child abuse scenes that border on exploitive, film buffs and genre fans will be irresistibly seduced by the style rather than the questionable substance.

Anwar is not the first to play with twin conceits of moviegoers-as-voyeurs and cinema-as-peepshow. But this, his third work, is arguably the most polished genre film of its kind in recent Indonesian cinema. The film is both a choice pick for festival midnight sidebars and a possibility for a remake for larger markets.

To all appearances, Gambir (Fachri Alba) is the envy of his peers: He is husband to foxy Talyda (Marsha Timothy), and a darling of the art world because of his sculptures of pregnant women. Yet from the soulful, neurotic glint in his eyes, one senses something is amiss. Could it be his sexual impotence, his controlling mother, his passive-aggressive wife who keeps their red room locked, or the fishy connection between the shapely protuberances of his artwork and his frequent visits to an abortion clinic?

Even more perturbing is his recent discovery of the words "help me" encrypted all around him. The clues eventually lead him to join a Masonic club, which allows members to channel-surf strangers' private lives. What he sees not only torments his conscience, but makes audiences accomplices in sadistic voyeurism while challenging their moral baseline.

The screenplay has as many layers as mille-feuille, and is just as hard to digest. Yet even with twist upon twist that extends beyond end credits, the film's many puzzles finally do click into place according to the perverse logic of its surreal universe.

It is a measure of Anwar's craft that he can present a facade of objective third-person narrative even as he funnels reality through Gambir's subconscious. The meticulously furnished mise-en-scenes, steeped in brooding reds and blacks, look like an interior designer's tour de force.

Moreover, the shifting ambiance of Gambir's boho-chic bungalow and the elegant, colonial club (complete with Hitchcockian spiral staircase) gives an air of showroom artificiality that mirrors the protagonist's feverish imagination.

Cinephiles who love to spot film references will be ticking off a long check list with Lynch in first place, followed by Hitchcock, Cronenberg's "Videodrome" and distends to include even "Sliver" and "Vacancy." The baroque denouement is another surprise tonal deviation to the realm of splatter films.

Venue: Udine Far East Film Festival
Cast: Fachri Alba, Marsha Timothy, Ario Bayu, Otto Djauhari
Director-screenwriter: Joko Anwar
Based on the novel by Sekar Ayu Asmara
Producer: Sheila Timothy
Director of photography: Ipung Rachmat Syaiful
Production designer: Wensislaus
Music: Aghi Narottama, Bembi Gusti, Ramondo Gascaro
Editor: Wawan I Wibowo
Sales and production: Lifelike Pictures
No rating, 115 minutes
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