Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988) review

 

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Tales from the Gimli Hospital is a strange movie. It was made in the late 1980s, yet it feels  much older, with it’s 4:3 aspect ratio and black and white film stock, as well as the soundtrack, reminiscent more of films from the 30s to 50s, rather than the 1980s. It feels like a relic from a time long passed and perhaps that is the point. The plot is summarised thusly:

“….Set during a smallpox epidemic among Icelandic immigrants in the village of Gimli, Manitoba, TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL explores jealousy and madness instilled in two men who share a hospital room. Einar (Kyle McCulloch) and Gunnar (Michael Gottli) are friends at first, until they reveal their darkest secrets to each other…. “-Youtube description

In this film, dialogue is sparse, some of which is in Icelandic. Unfortunately for me, the version I saw did not have any subtitles for the Icelandic dialogue, however all the parts of importance are in English. Performances are so-so and somewhat corny. Gunnar and Einar have smallpox, but the only way we know this is the markings on their bodies, but the way they behave only betrays half the symptoms of smallpox; the sweat and tiredness is there but the pain isn’t, it isn’t believable and seems irrelevant, it looked more like they had the flu.  The nurses are quite dull and basic, they look mostly unconcerned and lacking of emotion, which felt quite sinister and contributed to the attempt to create a depressing atmosphere.

The narrative is quite straightforward, while being told in a framed narrative way. However, the relationship between Einar and Gunnar isn’t given enough time to fully establish them as friends and make what tears them apart impactful; while the nature of this is innately disturbing and is presented as such, for me, it lacked the impact that it should have had. Some sequences also seem nonsensical and confused, such as Einar being in the woods and seeing a sexy singer and dancers, perhaps representing some desire of his, I’m not sure. It seems quasi Lynchian, but doesn’t work as effectively, at least for me. Other than the pacing issues and sometimes bizarre clashes of tone, I did however like the presentation of the narrative, with it’s strange cuts and steady static camera work. What I found interesting is that at the start it seemed like it was going to be a lighthearted and overall positive story, but it was totally the opposite, which kept me guessing to some extent. Some of these strange moments had some kind of comedic value in it’s strangeness but I didn’t find the film terribly funny overall even though some say it’s supposed to be hilarious. Maybe I didn’t get it, to me the film felt like it was supposed to be more drama and horror oriented. Perhaps with a longer run time or more emphasis on creating a bizarre and miserable atmosphere, coupled with better performances, this could’ve been the rural Eraserhead. Overall, while the film isn’t bad and has a couple elements that were quite good and quasi Lynchian,it’s not something I feel is great and should be immediately put on your to watch list. If you’re looking for a comedy or dark comedy, this isn’t that but if you want something more dramatic, quasi-Lynchian and antique feeling, this is worth a watch at the very least for the sake of curiosity.

You can watch the film here:

6/10

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Rams (2016) Review

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Rams seems like it would be one of those strange and esoteric films, with it’s unusual subject matter of two Icelandic sheep farmers, both of whom are brothers and one refuses to talk to the other, would be impenetrable and difficult to understand. This is not so. Written and directed by Grìmur Hákonarson, Rams is a wonderful, unpretentious film.

The camerawork in Rams is generally quite static and slow moving, which is instep with the overall pacing of the film. It takes it’s time, in it’s approximately 90 minute runtime, to really get us invested in the life of it’s protagonist ‘Gummi’, one of the sheep farming brothers and the general feeling of coldness, isolation and a slow paced lifestyle of rural Iceland. While trailers for this seemed to have represented this as a comedy, that representation is not quite accurate. But this is no matter for it is quite successful as a drama, whilst still retaining funny elements without them feeling contrived or because the script demands a funny moment, no music to tell you “this is the part where you should be ready to laugh,” the parts that are funny are innately funny and that represents a great confidence on part of the direction in the material. The basic plot, in a sentence, is this: Gummi and Kiddi are sheepfarming brothers who live next door but do not talk to each other and one day, Gummi notices the appearance of scrapie in the sheep and they all have to be culled, which strains their relationship further. Maybe that sentence doesn’t sell it very well, but take my word for it, it’s very interesting to see unfold.

 

Dialogue and soundtrack in this film are somewhat sparse but what dialogue there is is delivered well and convincingly and same goes for the performances generally. There was a great deal of nuance and humanity in the performances, to me, the characters all felt real and none of the situations in the film felt contrived or convenient, the narrative, much like the realism of the characters, all had a natural flow. There are some strange moments, like a close up of Gummi clipping his toenails, but all these small details and seemingly odd shots add to the overall realism of the characters.


To me, I was absolutely invested and engaged with the characters and even the story, despite not living a rural lifestyle. My engagement with Icelandic culture in the past has been largely limited to reading the Sagas of the Icelanders from the middle ages and for me, this film felt very much like a modern, small saga. However, a friend of mine with whom I saw the movie with, did not feel as invested emotionally in it as I did, which may, in his opinion, have something to do with prior levels of engagement with Icelandic culture or rural living, especially as character motivation seemed admittedly a little mysterious at one point. But I don’t think prior engagement with the culture is a necessity to enjoying this film, although it might help one to appreciate it in particular ways.

 

In short, would I recommend Rams? Absolutely, although if you lack patience or are one of those people who refuse to watch anything with subtitles, this is not for you. But for anyone else, definitely go see it if you can, I know it might be difficult considering it’s limited distribution. But yes, Rams is a beautiful, honest film that doesn’t need to try and impress you or treat you like a fool, it is confident in itself and is a thoroughly engaging, if slow, movie.

9/10