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Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988)

Cast: Kyle McCulloch, Michael Gottli, Angela Heck, more...
Director: Guy Maddin
    see all cast/crew...
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Kino On Video
Genre: Horror, Independent, Canada
Running Time: 68 min.
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Made while he was practically still a child, Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988) is Guy Maddin's primitive first feature. Setting out to be, not juvenile, but willfully childish, Maddin shot the movie in the vernacular spoken by film in the year of its own glorious second childhood -- namely 1929. He mixes b&w with toned sequences, mime with talking, locked-down expositional tableaux with bumpily fluid musical numbers. His moral sensibility is strictly precode. His mono soundtrack drones and hums out a comfy wool blanket of ambience-the viewer can sense his own mother tucking him in beneath a sweetly decaying quilt. The director eschews sharp focus in favour of oneiric portraiture and dismisses the literal-mindedness of continuity as inimical to dreaming. He seems always careful to throw the picture together carelessly, with the delirious glee of a finger-painting preschooler.

Gimli's story takes the director back to his own ethnic prehistory in a 19th-century Icelandic settlement in rural Canada, where an epidemic (cleverly unnamed to invite comparison with AIDS) has paved the pioneers with unsightly fissures and landed them all in a makeshift hospice shared with invaluable heat-generating farm animals. Here, in the titular hospital, dark but bouncy tales of death and jealousy exchanged between two men eventually pit the endomorphic raconteur Gunnar against the necrophiliac Einar in a buttock-shredding climax that is probably the most autobiographical moment of Maddin's career.

Though finding a Canadian Ned Sparks or Guy Kibbee for this project proved impossible (virulent strains of Berkeleyism infect almost every frame of the picture), the filmmaker did find a stalwart actor in Kyle McCulloch, whose ability to pitch his mannered performances perfectly to each anachronistic script won him the starring roles in this and the next two features.

The fluency with which Maddin speaks a dead movie-language suggests he suffers from a most plangent nostalgia, that he has spent most of his life looking backward through misty eyes, and with absolutely no idea where he is going. Traveling through a film in this fashion, he bumps into and rearranges much narrative furniture, often standing still to weep while he and his viewers get their bearings.

-- Guy Maddin
(originally published in the Village Voice and reprinted with the kind permission of the author and said publication)

This DVD also includes the exceptional short films The Dead Father (1985) and Hospital Fragment (1999).

GreenCine Member Reviews

interesting but verging on unwatchable by nate April 13, 2004 - 3:16 PM PDT
4 out of 7 members found this review helpful
The grainy black-and-white film look was interesting for a while, but the intentionally scratchy and hard to
understand soundtrack was annoying from the beginning.
Walking a fine line between pretentious and amateurish, it's definitely an art film, but I don't think I like the art. I really had to force myself to finish watching it.

It does have some great moments and some good scenes, but I have to think it would be a better as a 10 minute short than a hour long film. Some of the nuggets about Icelandic culture were beautiful (Gimli, Manitoba is the largest Icelandic settlement outside of Iceland), but I was hoping for more.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.38)
94 Votes
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