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If ‘not for everyone’ was a movie, it would be the arthouse oddity “Maximum Shame” — but the right audience will enjoy this wild ride.

Maximum Shame

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How to describe Maximum Shame?

An avant-garde theatre production of Hellraiser as performed by a Spanish Rocky Horror shadow cast? Hmm, not quite. An immersive gallery installation populated by the inmates at an insane asylum? Closer, but not quite right. Alice in Wonderland as set in an S&M dungeon? Kinky, but no. A movie trying very hard to be thought of as transgressive and weird? Some may say so.

In truth, Spanish filmmaker Carlos Atanes’s 2010 film is all of these things and more. And probably less, who knows.

It’s a movie that seems designed to confound, to provoke, to irritate. Am I selling it? If you’re a particular kind of movie fan, then maybe.

Shot in Spain and the UK and performed in English by a predominantly Spanish cast, Maximum Shame is the kind of film that wears its midnight-movie aspirations proudly.

It has no interest in being understood on a conventional level or even an unconventional one. It wants you to think it’s high-minded, with an extended chess metaphor and philosophical musings, but it also wants to be the kind of movie where a disembodied head orgasmically chews spaghetti and spits it back out at you. And also toss in a couple musical numbers, because why not.

Any attempt at a plot synopsis seems laughable for a movie like this, but I signed up for such a foolhardy endeavor when I decided to write about it, so here goes.

A guy (Paco Moreno) escapes an all-consuming black hole that will imminently destroy the world, fleeing to a crumbling post-industrial hellscape presided over by a sadistic, roller-skating Queen (Marina Gatell) who enjoys tormenting her subjects, even though they keep bumming her out.

The guy’s girlfriend (Ana Mayo) follows him there, encountering strange figures like the Knight (Ignasi Vidal) in her quest to reunite with her man. She’s our Alice to this Wonderland, an innocent who nearly gets subsumed by the madness around her.

Oftentimes, movies that aim to be strange and outrageous end up having the opposite effect, their blatant desire to reach that “WTF did I just watch” status bordering on desperation.

Really, it’s not all that hard to conjure one or two of these moments; just throw in whatever weird thing pops into your head, and you’re halfway there. What’s hard is doing so in such a way that it feels like it has some larger intention behind it.

I think MAXIMUM SHAME falls into this trap to a certain extent, but I still have to admire the integrity of its desire to provoke a reaction, any reaction, out of its audience.

This extends even to the filmmaking itself.

The whole thing is shot on pretty flat-looking digital video, and the sound recording is generally terrible, as if they just mic’d the room and didn’t bother with the actors. This auditory murkiness, coupled with the fact that the actors are performing in a language that is not their native tongue, makes large chunks of the movie nearly impossible to understand without subtitles.

I’m not proud to say that it only occurred to me to turn on subtitles toward the end of the film, but would it have mattered if I turned them on sooner? Somehow, I doubt it.

This column is supposed to be about movies I recommend, and I know it doesn’t seem like I’m recommending this one.

However, I think Maximum Shame is worth watching for the right viewer.

If you enjoy being challenged in more ways than one, or even if you just enjoy incredulously shaking your head at the madness playing out on your screen, you very well might enjoy yourself.

I think for as much as it enjoys pushing our buttons, the movie is meant to be enjoyed.

While it clearly aims for discomfort, it doesn’t take itself even remotely seriously, with an archly campy tone and moments of genuine comedy. The performers are all clearly having fun with it, which goes a long way towards making the whole thing watchable. Gatell in particular is a blast as the Queen, awkwardly rolling around on her skates like a gazelle on ice and delivering all her lines with bug-eyed relish.

You could throw everything from David Lynch to early John Waters to Atanes’s countrymen Pedro Almodóvar and Luis Buñuel into its giddy performance art paella.

If you’re the type of person who loves movies as weird and inexplicable as possible, give Maximum Shame a try — it might only serve to piss you off, but something tells me Atanes and his merry band of misfits are okay with that.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3

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