Film of the Week: Cowards Bend the Knee

Cowards Bend the Knee (2003) comes across as William Burroughs’s take on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Like his fellow Canadian compatriot Cronenberg, Guy Maddin’s interests are also profane and experimental. Here, a star hockey player falls prey to amnesia and is manipulated into assassination. The details of the plot aren’t as interesting as what Maddin concocts with them. There’s a ghost, wax figures come to life, and a man, like Frankenstein, is haunted by a monstrosity—his own hands. Maddin shot Cowards Bend the Knee on Super-8mm and takes further steps to have the film mimic the aesthetics of the silent era, replete with intertitles and a higher FPS. Combined with its plot, Cowards Bend the Knee would be more appropriately described then as a nightmare rather than a dream. Neither the camera movement or editing (frankly, nothing in the film) adhere to conventional, aesthetic logic. Movements are repeated, the camera adopts a hurricane-like rhythm, and the image at times is slowed down. The result isn’t an assault on sensibilities so much as it is on reality, reveling in a darker truth otherwise ignored.

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