Saturday, 16 October 2010


Wistful Canadian director Guy Maddin’s debut feature takes place in the fictional Gimli Hospital, where two children are at their terminally ill mother’s bedside. The kids’ Icelandic grandmother, Amma, regales them with the story of Einar the Lonely, a former patient at the hospital. Einar, a fisherman afflicted with smallpox, finds comfort in conversing with his similarly poorly neighbour Gunnar, but the two men soon find themselves love rivals for the hospital’s waifish nurses. With his charming personality and fascinating past, Gunnar is the clear winner, but Einar plays the game by inventing stories even more bizarre and grotesque than Gunnar’s.

Using tropes from the silent era, as has become his trademark, Maddin creates a very textural, darkly humorous story whose conclusion is neither important nor welcomed. Thick Icelandic accents give credibility to the sham mythologies spouted by the two men, while visual motifs such as fish and a jewelled pair of scissors enliven the feverish imagery. But while one would instinctively describe the film by listing the names of directors pastiched by Maddin, the film feels startlingly novel in its design, as if German Expressionism was in need of being revisited. What is most remarkable about the film is that, while thematically it is macabre, one cannot help but be charmed by it. As outstanding and wonderfully cultish a debut as David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Tales from the Gimli Hospital is a winning combination of film styles, and Maddin’s unique manner of storytelling ensures that no single frame is wasted.

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