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La Forteresse
The Keep

from l'Ecran
Fantastique nr.45
(May 1984)

From l'Ecran Fantastique nr.45 (May 1984), pp. 14-19:

La Forteresse Noire: The Keep
by Daniel Scotto
scans and original French text courtesy of Vincent Thibert of Welcome to Vincent Thibert's Main Page
translated by Paul Fellows of Welcome to the Dream Gallery, April 2000

Nestled among the Carpathian mountain range, where Dracula's shadow still drifts over the isolated villages, between two worlds at war linked by a steep escarpment, the black fortress sits, an unearthly and pernicious structure, an insolent challenge to the secular forces of time.

The young and talented director Michael Mann, who imposed his own filmic language with two feature-length films ('Like a Free Man' and 'The Loner'), invites us with his latest work 'The Keep' to penetrate the fortress and to reveal its most despicable secrets. Everything starts during the Second World War. Captain Woermann of the Wehrmacht, and his men, taking up their positions in the sinister building, are unaware of the terrifying scourge they will be confronted with. They will live an adventure that will take them into the dark confines of the unknown. . .

Right from the start, the producer doesn't concern himself with the usual considerations and psychological descriptions to render each protagonist authentic. In a few scenes punctuated by sporadic dialogue, the victims, like the heroes, take their place in a story devoid of all mannerisms. Horror quickly invades every part of the image and adorns itself with unsettling cold and dark colors. Michael Mann is composing a diabolic symphony of dazzling images, confronting the main characters with a terrifying force. In a conflict where social identity seems to be reduced to nothing, everyone finds their own identity with a dreaded awareness faced with a supernatural peril.

A grandiose and stylish film, a veritable opera of fear where the images and music fuse to make the most horrible nightmares reality, 'The Keep' constitutes Michael Mann's first foray into the domain of fantasy films. All the same, 'The Keep' marginalizes itself with a systematic refusal to favor visual shocks and to show this as a violent counterpoint unbalancing the story. The director manages to harmonize each element of a traditional horror film as well as introducing a modern approach to fear; the film no longer appears as a series of mini-shocks, but goes with a single and unique one! An insidious and perverse universe, buried in an archaic conscience, takes shape, and an unearthly entity, a powerful deity such as those which Lovecraft enjoyed writing about, haunts the oozing and claustrophobic corridors of the fortress.

The smattering of humans united in this antechamber of hell, from Captain Woermann and SS Kaempffer to Dr. Cuza and Father Fonescu, crystallize a group of dramatic responses, so that time no longer punctuates the increasing feeling of dread. The development of war takes place in this strange chaotic microcosm, and the fortress changes into a concentration camp . . . Molasar, personification of evil imprisoned in the depths of the earth, is waiting for deliverance like Chtulu or Yog Sothoth. The clumsy intervention of two German soldiers, trapped by their greed, frees him. The world at war of Woermann and Kaempffer overturns. The fight against the irrational appears to be in vain, and only a being of Molasar's power can save humanity from destruction.

Suddenly, a messiah appears from nowhere in the form of the strange Glaeken, transforming the horrible nightmare into a mystic tale. Glaeken and Molasar confront each other in a Manichean battle in the ancient fortress resembling an ancient temple devoted to the practice of an odious cult (the decor of the subterranean lair evokes the Cromlech at Stonehenge). By surrounding himself with a halo of Edenic purity conducive to triumphing over the dark forces of the Demon, Glaeken defeats Molasar in a flash of light which, magically enigmatic, appears to be no less than an energy beam, born of an advanced technology. The director refuses all definitions pertaining to a frenzied religion (despite the fact that Glaeken appears to be a representation of Christ, arms in the form of a cross, and that Tangerine Dream's music soars with an exaggerated lyricism), he prefers to suggest the existence of an extraterrestrial species, original source of the human race (and the origin of all religions), of which Glaeken and Molasar are the sole survivors.

Doesn't Glaeken, by emotionally attaching himself to Dr. Cuza's daughter, aspire to get to know this disturbing being, mortal and weak, who he strives to save from chaos, thus being faced with the terrible realization that Molasar is his cursed double?

Aside from its mysteries, The Keep expresses a firm desire to bring back the basics of a good show to the cinema. Following the example of the heroes of his feature films, Michael Mann is on an individual quest, the incessant search for new means of cinematic expression. The Keep represents the fruits of his efforts and opens up new and hitherto unheard of (or scorned) perspectives. With cold and chilling (but not glacial) images, vigorous editing, and masterly directing of the actors, sometimes theatrical and always paroxysmal, Michael Mann erases all notion of time inherent to a filmed story, and removes the distinction between viewer and image.

A staggering masterpiece, The Keep is part of the rebirth of a genre which is somewhat ossified at the moment, and with 'The Dead Zone' and 'Shadowfair', contributes to the enlightenment about fantasy, of the dominance of science fiction, following the work started by 2001, Alien and Bladerunner.

From the sublime opening scene where we watch the breathtaking descent of the camera into the forest only to see a subtle bluish sparkling, an amazing optical illusion, to the monumental last scene, Michael Mann masters this perilous adventure, and this exceptional creator of dreams leaves his mark on a 7th art coming back to life . . .

-- Daniel Scotto

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Created 5/3/00. Final update of members.spree.com/molasar version on 5/19/00.
Resurrected at thekeep.0catch.com on 3/29/13.
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