In his short feature films, Guy Maddin has honed a signature style mimicking the period of transition between silent and talking films, featuring jittery black-and-white cinematography, very sparse and crudely dubbed dialogue, silent-film overacting, cryptic chapter titles and other entertaining effects. His stories often ape the over-the-top melodrama of operatic works like Metropolis, and he loves to cloak lurid primal urges and aberrant psychology in the shadows of restrained dialogue and surreal steampunk inventions.
Archangel (1990) is Maddin's second feature film and it won the Winnipeg filmmaker critical acclaim. It's a bizarre tale set against the ravages of World War I, and as if referencing the horrors of trench warfare isn't enough to set the backdrop, Maddin pushes the despair further by locating the tale in the Russian arctic after the war has ended — but no one has informed the people in Archangel that they can stop fighting. Plus there's the problem of the October Revolution; no one knows if the Bolsheviks have prevailed. Soldiers walk around in a daze, suffering from trauma and amnesia. Maddin is so insistent on illustrating the bleakness of it all, one can't help but marvel at the epic and sick humor. There's no personal exchange between characters that he won't make more hopeless by the sudden arrival of marauding Huns or some other wartime atrocity.
Boles (Kyle McCulloch), a one-legged Canadian soldier, is distraught over the loss of his wife Iris, and he's perpetually deluded that Veronkha (Kathy Marykuca) is in fact Iris. Veronkha's husband Philbin (Ari Cohen), a Belgian aviator, has forgotten they are married. Both men and women seem to continue campaigns of love that have been resolved, but as with the war, they are hopelessly unaware of the outcomes.
It's Maddin at his early best, but the pleasure is in his inspired homage to a genre of filmmaking and his indulgence in an insanely melodramatic story. Devoted Maddin fans will appreciate the crazed eccentricity of Archangel. Newcomers might find it easier to wade into films like Brand Upon the Brain (2006) or The Saddest Music in the World (2003), which are cryptic as well, but don't trivialize a global war to create metaphors about the futility of finding love. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
7 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgesitinc.net