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While their mother is dying in the modern Gimli, Manitoba hospital, two young children are told a tale by their Icelandic grandmother about Einar the Lonely, his friend Gunnar, and the angelic Snjofridur in a Gimli of old. Written by
The narrative is a bit of a problem but like most Maddin films, there is plenty to carry the load
In the modern town of Gimli, two young children watch their mother dying in hospital. To distract them they are told a story of old Gimli by their grandmother. In the story it is Gimli years ago when live was disrupted by an outbreak of smallpox. With poor medical facilities available to him, Einar finds himself in a nightmarish half-waking state of "care" with other sufferers, including his friend Gunnar, who are somewhere between life and death. The two friends grow close but shared secrets threaten to tear them apart as the world around them changes quickly.
As someone who actually likes Guy Maddin I still have to be honest and say that, while my favourite films of his have narratives I like, usually his work is not where you want to come for stories that grip you and make a lot of sense. And so it is with his first feature film, a story that is being told to two children who, for some reason, are in the room where their mother is dying; it sounds strange and indeed it is. The narrative is interesting enough but if that's all there was here of value then you'd have given up quite quickly; happily there is enough of interest going on to engage the audience despite the narrative being rather incoherent at times. This is not to say that it will appeal to all viewers because of course it will not, but for those that "get" his other films, the story will not be a problem.
The reason for this is that his unique style is fully on display here (albeit with a lower budget) and this makes it interesting if not totally engrossing. At times the style overwhelmed the lesser substance to such an extent that it did feel rather hollow but this was a rare feeling for me. Normally I have that problem with his shorts but, with a low running time, it usually doesn't matter so much. With his features it can be a problem but he mastered it with the wonderful Cowards Bend At The Knee and he does enough to cover it here. It did feel a bit sparse at times although that is probably more to do with me being used to his bigger budget films (bigger being a comparative term) rather than the film being weak visually. The cast don't really give much in the way of performances so much as be carried along with the direction but this isn't that much of a problem since the film was never about them.
Overall this film is an acquired taste that will not appeal to those who dislike other Maddin films. Compared to his later films, this feels a lot less flashy and sparse but it still works and will please fans of Maddin. Narrative-wise it has some problems that viewers may find difficult to get past but the many strange and imaginative touches to the overall delivery of the film more than cover for these issues and, while not an equal to some of his recent work, this is still worth a watch.
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