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Kino on Video presents
Tales From the Gimli Hospital (1988)

"Where are you, Snjofridur? Why did you leave me? I miss you. Why are you dead? Where are the scissors? Where are the scissors I gave you?"
- Gunnar (Michael Gottli)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: October 06, 2000

Stars: Kyle McCulloch, Michael Gottli, Angela Heck
Other Stars: Margaret Anne MacLeod, Stephen Snyder
Director: Guy Maddin

Manufacturer: CMCA
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (blood, adult themes, disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 01h:07m:49s
Release Date: October 17, 2000
UPC: 738329018320
Genre: offbeat

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Guy Maddin's Tales from the Gimli Hospital concerns a young man known as Einar the Lonely (Kyle McCulloch), living in the Canadian town of Gimli, home to a number of settlers from Iceland. Infected by a pestilential epidemic, Einar makes his way to the Gimli Hospital, a loft above a livestock barn where the disease's symptomatic skin fissures are commonplace and puppet shows serve as a primitive form of anesthesia. Einar tries in vain to attract the attention of the nurses and makes the acquaintance of a fellow patient named Gunnar (Michael Gottli), a storyteller who enjoys carving fish out of birch bark. As the other patients die around them and Gunnar goes blind, Einar and Gunnar become friends, only to see their camaraderie destroyed when a dark secret emerges concerning Einar and the funeral pyre of Gunnar's late wife, Snjofridur (Angela Heck).

If you're still reading, you're probably on the right wavelength to "get" this one. Maddin's 1988 film follows in the stylistic footsteps of the silent film Expressionists and the surrealists who followed; his grainy, 16mm black-and-white footage seems inspired by the works of F.W. Murnau, Kenneth Anger, David Lynch and Luis Bunuel in more-or-less equal measure. Angels, blood, dead birds, carefree children, fish, a disturbing white minstrel in blackface, sunny beaches and disease-ridden bodies populate Maddin's stream-of-consciousness imagery, but unlike more self-consciously "artsy" directors, Maddin never loses track of his narrative thread. There is a story here, partially obscured though it may be, and every stark, bizarre shot has a purpose.

This isn't to say that the imagery isn't worthwhile for its own sake; Maddin displays a keen eye for light and shadow, and the limits of his budget become filmic virtues, using limited lighting and a locked-down camera while hiss and crackle keep the soundtrack alive. But there's always an underlying purpose to the Maddin-ness; he never invokes imagery for its own sake, and the film's story keeps the audience involved at an intellectual level while its amazing pictures flicker across the screen. It won't be to everyone's taste; as is usually the case with genuine art, the film is likely to inspire extreme feelings one way or the other. But there's nothing average about it—neither annoyingly self-indulgent nor straightforwardly mundane, Maddin's debut feature will reward anyone brave enough to venture into Gimli Hospital.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Kino presents Tales from the Gimli Hospital in its original 16mm 1.33:1 full-frame theatrical aspect ratio. The source print has quite a few flecks and some splices and scratches here and there, but in this case the old-fashioned look is intentional. The film's black-and-white photography (with color tinting in one scene) is solidly captured here, with deep black level, well-balanced grayscale and no blocking artifacts despite the film's frequent graininess. Not the sort of film one uses to show off the home theatre, but the transfer is clean and sharp. (A bit of windowboxing might have been valuable here, as most TV sets' overscan will lose action at the extreme edges of Maddin's careful compositions.)

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish w/ Icelandicyes

Audio Transfer Review: Tales from the Gimli Hospital is presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic soundtrack, ProLogic-decoded to the center speaker. The film's audio character is intentionally dated, with constant sampled/looped hiss and crackle supporting the largely M.O.S. action and coloring the old-fashioned music and dialogue. Traditional DVD audio standards don't really apply here—the track is noisy, clipped and exactly how it's supposed to sound.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Guy Maddin
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. The Dead Father Short
  2. Hospital Fragment Short
Extras Review: Kino's Tales from the Gimli Hospital DVD features 12 picture-menu chapter stops and several substantial Guy Maddin supplements:

Short: The Dead Father:

An entertaining twenty-five minute short by Guy Maddin, exploring the complications that arise when a young man's father passes away but occasionally "recovers" and returns for a visit, leaving when he becomes fed up with his surviving family. Black-and-white, full-frame, largely silent with occasional narration and music; alternately funny and contemplative.

Short: Hospital Fragment:

A four-minute companion piece to the main feature, set in the Gimli Hospital universe with some of the same actors as a bedridden patient and a beautiful young woman share - something. Black-and-white, full-frame, almost dialogue-free, with gender-bending, ethereal, quasi-erotic freely-associative imagery.

Director Commentary:

Writer/director Guy Maddin contributes a running commentary, discussing the background and production of Tales from the Gimli Hospital, his first feature film, written, shot and edited over an 18-month period. While Maddin's commentary is entertaining and informative, the dreamlike quality of the film may be subtly dispelled by the behind-the-scenes knowledge it contains. A rare situation in which additional material may actually detract from one's enjoyment of the film—listen with caution (especially if you dislike "lip-smacking" speech, a habit to which Maddin is prone.)

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Guy Maddin's Tales from the Gimli Hospital is a fascinating collection of images that still manages to tell a coherent (if obtuse) story. Kino International's DVD presents the film in fine style, with a quality transfer and substantial supplements to boot. Not for the "spell it out for me" crowd, but a rewarding experience if you're prepared to make the commitment. Recommended.


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