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ARCHANGEL (director/writer: Guy Maddin; screenwriter: story by John B. Harvie; cinematographer: Guy Maddin; editor: Guy Maddin; cast: Kyle McCulloch (Lt. John Boles), Kathy Marykuca (Veronkha), Michael Gottli (Jannings), David Falkenburg (Geza), Michael O’Sullivan (Doctor), Margaret Anne MacLeod (Baba), Ari Cohen (Philbin), Sarah Neville (Danchuk); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Greg Klymkiw; Zeitgeist; 1990-Canada)
“Inspired absurdist melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Canadian indie filmmaker Guy Maddin (“The Heart of the World”/”Twilight of the Ice Nymphs”/”Tales from the Gimli Hospital”) helms this inspired absurdest melodrama that’s beautiful to look at but is not meant to make sense in the usual way a cinema storyline does (so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if not much is clear, as I believe the director just wants you to go with the flow and let the tale take you wherever you think a Russian silent epic and a Hollywood De Mille like war epic should take you!). It’s cowritten by Maddin and John B. Harvie to be personal, campy and impenetrable, and is filmed in stunning black-and-white.

This is Maddin’s second feature, whereby he re-creates in 1920s silent epic Russian film style a tragic love story revolving around the Great War (WW I).

It’s set in the Northernmost tip of old Imperial Russia in the winter of 1919. The intertitle tells us the Great War has been over for three months, but the folks in Archangel are not aware of this. The film’s hero peg-leg Canadian soldier, Lt. John Boles (Kyle McCulloch), is a tenant in Archangel with the family of the attractive Danchukis (Sarah Neville). Though she’s attracted to him, he only pines for his long-lost Iris. He’s still in uniform and believes he’s still fighting in the Russian Revolution as a survivor of a mustard gas attack. As a result he develops amnesia and can’t remember anything clearly, and goes on obsessed over his love for the long-lost Iris who he mistakenly believes is the Russian nurse Veronkha (Kathy Marykuca). She’s married to a Belgian aviator named Philbin (Ari Cohen) who has been reared since childhood to be an amnesiac and can’t remember he’s married. All this confusion gets to Veronkha, who gets so confused that she winds up with a case of amnesia and mistakes the Canadian for the Belgian.

Boles continues to fight in his head all the romantic war battles that have already ended, with all the soldiers being ghosts and all the women and children also being phantoms. Which makes for a confusing and delirious pic, that moves archly into the avant-garde mold as its heady glorified nonsensical tale is uplifted by some terrific war scenes done on the cheap with innovative special effects.

It’s not a pic for the casual viewer, but should grab the attention of the more arty viewer who can roll with the more far out aspects of this weirdly humorous and highly stylized absorbing dream-like one-of-a-kind surrealist film (White Russian soldiers asleep in their trenches are attacked by rabbits).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”