“Maelstrom, from my humble point of view, was inspired as follows: we all have an amazing built-in system of personal and social defense: we interpret the world and construct for ourselves an image of it, which comforts us and eases our conscience, and we do this instinctively. For me, Maelstrom is a playful call to be responsible and to be careful. Some of my friends found this definition childish and tried to convince me that Maelstrom was, instead, a dark and serious drama about a woman emerging from chaos and mythomania. Others consider it a luminous noir fable of a voyage to the limits of reality and myth. That’s ridiculous. Don’t believe a word they say.”–Denis Villeneuve, Director’s Note to Maelstrom
DIRECTED BY: Denis Villeneuve
FEATURING: Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Pierre Lebeau (voice)
PLOT: A fish about to be chopped up and made into seafood explains that, with his last breaths, he would like to tell a “pretty story” about a young woman “on a long voyage toward reality.” We then meet Bibi, undergoing an abortion; later that day, she will lose her position in the family business, then leave the scene of the accident after striking a pedestrian while driving drunk. In the guilt-ridden weeks that follow, she tracks down the man she struck to find out who he was and what happened to him.
- Maelstrom swept the 2001 Genies (the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Awards), winning the Best Picture, Director, Lead Actress, Screenplay, and Cinematography awards. Other than film festival appearances, the movie received little distribution outside of Canada. A DVD was released in 2003 with little fanfare, and Maelstrom has been largely forgotten since.
- Set in Montreal, Maelstrom was filmed in French, but a small portion of the dialogue is in untranslated Norwegian, as is the opening epigraph.
- Maelstrom was included in film critic Richard Crouse’s book “The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” (coincidentally, this makes the eighth of the titles Crouse chose that we’ve independently reviewed).
- In 2010 Denis Villeneuve scored an international arthouse hit with the (not weird) Incendies, a story about twins traveling to the Middle East to uncover a family secret, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The grotesque, philosophical fish who croaks out the tale between gasps while waiting for the fishmonger (sharpening his blade on a stone and looking like an executioner) to finish him off.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The story is narrated by a dying fish. If you need more than that, there’s the confusing, impressionistic, nonlinear timeline (that replays certain scenes); some incredible plot and thematic coincidences; and the stylishly stoned scenes of Bibi drowning her woes in booze and pills. But I keep coming back to the fact that the story is narrated by a (surprisingly reflective) dying fish. Talk about cod philosophy!
Trailer for Maesltrom
COMMENTS: “You’ll get nightmares from eating stale octopus,” Bibi’s friend warns her Continue reading 87. MAELSTROM (2000)