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TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL (director/writer: Guy Maddin; cinematographer: Guy Maddin; editor: Guy Maddin; cast: Kyle McCulloch (Einar the Lonely/Minstrel), Michael Gottli (Gunnar), Angela Heck (Snjófridur), Don Hewak (John Ramsay), Ronald Eyolfson (Pastor Osbaldison/Patient), Margaret Anne MacLeod (Amma); Runtime: 72; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Greg Klymkiw; Kino Video; 1988-Canada)
“It’s a strange tale that never seems to be anything other than enormously funny and strange.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s (“Careful”/”Twilight of the Ice Nymphs”) low-budget black & white (with sometimes sepia tinted footage) first feature is a cult film shot like a surreal silent from F.W. Murnau (with hardly any dialogue). It’s a strange tale that never seems to be anything other than enormously funny and strange. It’s the film that put Maddin on the map as an up-and-coming filmmaker.

It’s set during a smallpox epidemic in the coastal village of Gimli, in a makeshift hospital located above a livestock barn, somewhere in the remote arctic region of Manitoba at the turn of the 20th century, an age pictured as one we no longer know that was more innocent than the modern one but filled with dark shadows. It concerns the relationship between two men patients sharing a hospital room with the same smallpox infection, Einar the Lonely (Kyle McCulloch), an Icelander who works in a lakefront smokehouse, and Gunnar (Michael Gottli), an avid storyteller whose hobby is carving fish out of birch bark. The epidemic leaves Frankenstein-like cracks across the vic’s faces and bods. The two, at first, have a friendly relationship telling stories about themselves that concern love tales, their disappointments and necrophilia. But their relationship turns sour as Gunnar goes blind and all the other patients start dying off, and nasty secrets emerge revolving around Einar and something to do about envy over Gunnar’s late wife Snjofridur (Angela Heck). The now rivals engage in a fight while bagpipes play. In the end, it’s only Einar who recovers and returns to work in the smokehouse.

Filled with a droll black humor, an illogical story line and dreamlike weird images, the unusual film is striking and garnished with a raw power that makes it a campy inspirational treat that defies being explained in a rational way.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”