Monday, September 17, 2007


This one’s going to be a hard one to critique. If you’ve never seen a Guy Maddin film before, I have no idea how exactly to convey what it’s like to watch one of his films. Imagine a modern update of silent cinema, with sound effects and spoken dialogue, but still utilizing the visual language of pre-sound cinema, sucking us into a thoroughly absorbing, dreamlike world that looks almost, but not quite completely unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

The plot isn’t an entirely sturdy piece of work, and it is not intended to be. The film, set in the fictional town of Archangel in northern Russia, begins by following a series of vignettes about the townfolk before leading to a scene of battle that perfectly evokes the feeling of silent war movies (it’s set three months after the end of the Great War, but nobody had yet gotten around to informing the town). It’s mostly there to provide Maddin with the opportunity to show off his great skill at crafting great visual images, as well as showing off his great wit. For instance, during a war pageant, a man playing the role of a heroic Russian soldier announces “We’ll beat the Huns with our guns, and we’ll make the Kaiser roll!”, which gets enough applause that he feels foolishly confident enough to say it again in the sad hopes of getting another applause break. One noticeable difference from real silent films from days of yore are the brief moments of sudden violence; this is only the second film I’ve yet seen where a man strangles another with the first’s intestines (the other, of course, being Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky).

It’s not one of Maddin’s best films, of course. It was a very early effort by him, being only his second feature length film, and he hadn’t really perfected his signature style, or really learned how to go all out on the visuals and humor. Still, it’s well worth watching, and is certainly better than at least half the films I review here. Go hunt it down.

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