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“It all happened in a Gimli we no longer know.”–Tales from the Gimli Hospital
DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin
FEATURING: Kyle McCulloch, Michael Gottli, Angela Heck, Margaret Anne MacLeod
PLOT: In a modern (?) hospital room, a Canadian-Icelandic grandmother tells her grandchildren the story of Einar the Lonely to distract them as their mother lies dying. Simple fisherman Einar falls in love with a beautiful girl, but she rejects him when it is revealed that he has contracted smallpox. He goes to recuperate in Gimli’s barn-cum-hospital, where he befriends a fellow patient, Gunnar, who shares stories which are mixed up with fever dream hallucinations.
- Gimli is a small village in Manitoba, settled by Icelandic fishermen who arrived in Canada fleeing the eruption of Mount Askja in 1875.
- Maddin lifted some names and incidents from a book of local history (and poetry) entitled “The Gimli Saga” (also his original choice of title).
- Tales from the Gimli Hospital was rejected by the Toronto International Film Festival, but championed by legendary cult film aficionado Ben Barenholtz, who secured a midnight run for the film at Greenwich Village’s Quad Theater.
- The film garnered a Best Screenplay nomination for Maddin from Canada’s Genie Awards.
- The 2022 “Redux” cut (reviewed here) substitutes a dream sequence shot eleven years later for an original scene that featured Kyle McCullough in blackface.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Although there are many strange sights to see in Gimli, almost all of them have something to do with fish: fish-chopping, fish-carving, a magenta-toned dream women turning into a fish princess. The most iconic moment is when Einar grabs a fish (which has been nailed to the wall of his shack), holds it over his head, and twists it to release its oily guts, using the goo to slick back his hair.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Fish guts pomade; bloody butt grappling
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Guy Maddin’s debut feature sets the tone for his career—recreating the aesthetics of silent and early talkie movies, spiked with Freudian surrealism and absurdist humor—though his subsequent movies benefited from melodramatic plotting that is absent from the episodic Gimli. Although highly accomplished, it’s one of Maddin’s most surreal movies, and therefore not the easiest entry point to his world. It may be better to visit Gimli after becoming familiar with Maddin’s more mature work.
Redux re-release trailer for Tales from the Gimli Hospital
COMMENTS: Guy Maddin may be the archetypal cinematic postmodernist. “Postmodernism” is a term that’s simultaneously highly Continue reading 38*. TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL (1988)