Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997)
Directed by Guy Maddin

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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Having been released from prison, Peter Glahn (Nigel Whitmey, but voiced by Ross McMillan) returns to his home on the dreamy island of Mandragora, where his sister Amelia (Shelley Duvall) owns an ostrich farm and employs a foul tempered eunuch named Cain (Frank Gorshin). There, Peter falls in love with Juliana Kossel (Pascale Bussières), the lover of Issac Solti (R.H. Thomson), a vain, heartless hypnotist who also lives on the island and with whom Amelia is infatuated. Within a short time of Peter's arrival at his home, he and the other inhabitants of Mandragora, including a young widow named Zephyr Eccles (Alice Krige), have become embroiled in a complex web of relationships which eventually brings violence and conflict to the island.

Guy Maddin's Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is a consistently lovely film filled with such sexually charged, artificial melodrama that it is a wondrous delight to watch.

Although Maddin has stated that the color palate he chose for the film was inspired by the paintings of Gustave Moreau, the whole of the movie actually resembles, in both its colors and its style, the paintings of Maxfield Parrish. I will concede that I am not a great admirer of that artist's work, but, be that as it may, his visual style, even if unintended, works extremely well in the film and infuses Twilight of the Ice Nymphs with a wonderful, dreamlike, and otherworldly feel. The whole of the movie is set below pink, blue, magenta, and golden skies, among luxuriant and obviously artificial forests filled with clouds of floating down, upon and beside bays of scintillating waters, around Amelia's rustic farm, and in Issac's mansion, which is cluttered with all the paraphernalia of a wizard's workroom. All these places, lavish and charming as they are, are made even more appealing by the various soft but luminous colors and diaphanous hazes with which Maddin bathes them. Even though there are times when the costume or set designs are not entirely inspired, or are even distracting, the movie is, far more often than not, a real joy simply to look at.

Fortunately, Maddin has not merely created a visually attractive film. The story he tells is as quirky and melodramatic as are those he relates in most of his other movies, and it is just as inventive and engaging as are those other narratives. From its florid and romantic beginning until its gratuitously tragic conclusion, the feverish, frequently lurid tale of jealousy, overwhelming passion, murderous rage, and betrayal told in Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is absolutely and deliciously enthralling. Maddin's characters are consistently strange, as are many of the lines they speak, and give the viewer the opportunity to appreciate them for their eccentricities. Maddin's fictional world is, in fact, so infused with such a delightful weirdness, such a disorienting, overwrought absurdity, that its artificiality and peculiarity give it a marvelous flavor that is a real pleasure to savor.

With both this narrative and the intoxicating images he has crafted, Maddin draws the viewer into a strange, liminal world, in which passions, obsessions, and sinister secrets are given manifest forms, and, thereby, allows the viewer the opportunity to feel all the movie's characters' emotions with a genuine intensity. Instead of merely trying to trick the viewer into believing he is voyeuristically spying on some real persons, by creating a lovely artificial world inhabited by nearly mythic individuals, who speak their lines in a perfectly articulated, almost liturgical manner, and whose actions are given a wild intensity never encountered in the ordinary world, Maddin engages the viewer directly with the events of the film so that he experiences the emotions it arouses with a potent immediacy. The effect the director achieves is truly and profoundly affecting.

While I cannot say that Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is a great film, it does often come very close, and it is certainly a pleasure to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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