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Case Number 15867

Buy Careful at Amazon


Zeitgeist Films // 1992 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // March 9th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Ben Saylor is putting his name on a new toothbrush so that some accidents don't happen.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Quintessential Guy Maddin!, published December 10th, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

Grigorss: Oh, Klara, you're a wild one.
Klara: So are the reindeer when summer is coming.

Opening Statement

In writer-director Guy Maddin's body of work, Careful stands in a unique position, sandwiched between the interesting but flawed Archangel and the out-there-even-for-Maddin Twilight of the Ice Nymphs. Of these three films, it is arguably Careful, Maddin's self-described "pro-incest movie set in the mountains," that is the best harbinger of the kind of films the director would make later in his career.

Facts of the Case

In the mountain village of Tolzbad, the citizenry must take pains not to make excessive noise for fear of triggering calamitous avalanches. In this stifling atmosphere lives the Bernholtz family. Brothers Johann (Brent Neale) and Grigorrs (Kyle McCulloch) dutifully attend butler school in the hopes of gaining employment at the home of the mysterious and powerful Count Knotgers (Paul Cox), while eldest brother Franz lives in exile in the attic. But Johann is tormented by his strong feelings toward his mother Zenaida (Gosia Dobrowolska), and his lust proves to have dire consequences. Meanwhile, Johann's beloved Klara (Sarah Neville) must contend with inappropriate urges of her own that are directed at her father (Victor Cowie, Cowards Bend the Knee).

The Evidence

Careful announces itself as a Guy Maddin film right away, with simultaneously eerie and silly vocal harmonizing on the soundtrack and a bizarrely humorous introduction to the village of Tolzbad by Herr Trotta, Klara's father. The world of the film is quickly established, and what follows for the next 90 minutes and change is largely a typical Maddin film, if there is such a thing.

Careful, like Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and The Saddest Music in the World, is a "talkie," and, like Nymphs, is in color. (Music has come color portion, but is largely black and white). Careful is nonetheless steeped in Maddin's by-now-familiar nostalgia for the filmmaking of old married to the director's own particular brand of strangeness that makes his films so hard to describe. Among the films in Maddin's canon, Careful is arguably easier to pin down than his other works; the director's amusing description of the film that I appropriated for my opening statement is a fair, if reductive, synopsis. It is about incest and is set in the mountains, although what Maddin's description doesn't include is the air of repression that rules the film. Careful's first half, in particular, deals in large part with Johann's struggling between his love for the good-natured Klara and his lust for his own mother. With the muted voices of the Tolzbad townsfolk go similarly repressed emotions and desires, which affect not only the young people of the town but also its adults; Zenaida loves Count Knotgers but ended up marrying a man she does not love, and Knotgers himself remains cloistered in his secluded estate, along with the preserved corpse of his mother.

But while Careful is a film about incest, the movie shouldn't be taken seriously. The film's ending, at which point (spoiler) all of the film's major characters are dead (end spoiler), is still more humorous than sad. Beyond perhaps being a cautionary tale about repression, Careful is still, even with its subject matter, a light film. And while Careful is visually and aurally impressive and never boring, there is nonetheless a difference in quality between this film and Maddin's later works, which are richer and more bold. Still, Careful is as funny a film as Maddin has made, and the visuals deftly alternate between beautiful, spooky and amusing. The actors are all clearly on Maddin's wavelength and give the sort of performances the film demands. John McCulloch's otherworldly music also goes a long way toward enhancing the overall experience of watching the film.

Zeitgeist Films have put together an impressive "remastered and repressed" DVD package for Careful. This being a Guy Maddin film, the image is certainly not crystal clear, and the soundtrack has hisses and static, but that's the way Maddin intends his films to look and sound, and under those conditions I think this DVD is well done. The colors, in particular, come through quite handsomely.

Zeitgeist doesn't skimp on the extras, either, beginning with a feature commentary with Maddin and frequent collaborator George Toles. The two filmmakers offer up a steady stream of information about the production, making for a solid listen. Next, we have a 60-minute documentary called Waiting for Twilight that examines Maddin's life and early career. Directed by Noam Gonick and narrated by Tom Waits, the film combines clips of early Maddin works such as Tales from the Gimli Hospital and Archangel with talking heads interviews with Maddin himself, Toles and several others. There is also footage of Maddin on set during the shoot of the director's 1997 feature Twilight of the Ice Nymphs. This is a fascinating documentary that is a must-watch for fans of the filmmaker, although I would have liked more insight into why the Ice Nymphs shoot was so problematic, a fact that is only fleetingly touched on in Waiting for Twilight. Rounding out the special features is Maddin's 1995 short film Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity. The DVD packaging lists an essay by Village Voice critic J. Hoberman along with a message from Maddin, but they were not included on our advanced screener copy.

Closing Statement

While Guy Maddin's more recent work is more accomplished and compelling, Careful is still a well-made dark comedy, and this DVD presentation of the film should more than satisfy fans of the filmmaker.

The Verdict

(Sotto voce) Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 94
Audio: 94
Extras: 94
Acting: 88
Story: 92
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Cult
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Featurette
• Short Film


• IMDb

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