1990, 90 min. Directed by Guy Maddin. Starring Kyle McCulloch, Kathy Marykuca, Ari Cohen, Sarah Neville.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 29, 1991
Guy Maddin, the (seemingly) deranged Winnipeg director of Tales from the Gimli Hospital has returned to confuse, annoy, or enthrall audiences (depending on your outlook) once again. This time out, Maddin employs a far more extravagant budget ($400,000 approximately) as well as a higher grade of film stock. Maddin fans have no reason to cry "sellout" yet, though -- Archangel has much of the same perverse, sub-underground feel of the first film, and indeed could act as a companion piece. Maddin's penchant for devising nearly incomprehensible storylines has been similarly unaffected by the increase in budgeting. As far as I can tell, the film takes place in the Arctic Russian city of the title, during the Bolshevik revolution. Lt. Boles (McCulloch), whose mind is reduced to more or less of a sieve by the Huns' mustard gas, becomes convinced that nurse Verhonka (Marykuca) is his dead love Iris. Although married to the similarly amnesic Philbin (Cohen), she eventually marries the young lieutenant (she, too, appears to have been subjected to the mentally debilitating effects of the dreaded mustard gas). Just to keep things confusing, Maddin throws in a few other characters who also love the wrong people, and sooner or later, you're not only unclear on the story unfolding before you, but you've misplaced your popcorn as well. Maddin revels in keeping his audience at a loss -- a bothersome trait at best -- but his bizarre use of visuals occasionally makes it all worthwhile. Archangel, like its predecessor, is shot in a stark black-and-white that recalls the old German expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Nosferatu. The characters move in a surreal, fogbound atmosphere of hazy unease; this is a place where fuzzy bunnies rain down into the Russian trenches while the German invaders feast on the throats of their slaughtered enemies. At once perplexing and joyous, Maddin has crafted a film that, for all the confusion inherent in the tale, unfolds on its own unique (and rather tedious) terms. Love it or hate it, this is one film that just doesn't give a damn what you think. In a marketplace literally flooded with John Hughes films and buddy-cop pictures, that's such a glaringly uncommon attitude that it's hard not to admire it. Even if you can't find your popcorn.