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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