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Film / Archangel

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Archangel is a 1990 film directed by Guy Maddin.

The film is set in the Russian port of Archangel in 1919. One-legged Canadian officer Lt. John Boles has come to Archangel, in the Russian far north. He has as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, on behalf of the Whites against the Bolsheviks. Boles himself cares little about the Reds or the Whites, being deep in mourning for his lost love, Iris. (How deep? He's toting around her ashes in an urn.)

Boles lands in Archangel and is billeted with a peasant family; the mother, Danchuk, is immediately attracted to him. Boles meets a local woman, Veronkha, and is shocked to see that she is the spitting image of his dearly departed Iris. He faints, and when he wakes up he believes that she is Iris. Meanwhile, Veronkha has a husband, Philbin, who was injured in the war and suffers amnesia.


Filled with bizarre imagery, surrealism, stilted acting, and deliberately low-budget effects, all of which would become the Signature Style of Guy Maddin.


  • An Arm and a Leg: Lt. Boles lost a leg, presumably during the war. This has nothing to do with the story other than to make it a little bit weirder, as it just so happens that the family he's billeted with has a spare artificial leg lying around.
  • As You Know: Philbin's doctor tells Veronkha a lot of stuff she already knows about her wedding to Philbin.
  • Beast of Battle: One scene has a German soldier biting the throat out of an innocent victim, only to raise his head and show a distinctly simian appearance. This is a direct lift from real anti-German World War I propaganda like this.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: The movie ends with Veronkha, once she regains her memory, rejecting Boles and marrying Philbin again. The last scene shows Boles getting a hero's welcome back home in Canada, complete with a ceremony and kisses from pretty girls, but with his face frozen in a Thousand-Yard Stare.
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  • Easy Amnesia: All three of the main characters! Philbin has some sort of Memento-style anterograde amnesia in which he can't form new memories, and as a consequence always thinks that he and Veronkha are getting married that day. Boles faints upon seeing Veronkha and after waking up thinks that Veronkha is Iris. And Veronkha, after the shock of seeing Boles instead of Philbin when she was trying to play her jealousy stunt, faints and suffers complete amnesia. Boles tells her she's Iris when she wakes up.
  • Eye Scream: Jannings kills one of the German soldiers raiding his house by jabbing out both the German's eyes with his thumbs.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: One of the most bizarre scenes in this bizarre movie comes when Jannings is literally gutted by a German soldier, his intestines spilling all over the floor. Jannings manages to shake off this minor boo-boo long enough to get up and kill a German soldier by strangling the German with Jannings' own spilled intestines, not unlike a certain scene in Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.
  • Headbutt of Love: After deliberately slicing her own forehead with a shard of glass (see Hemo Erotic below), Veronkha does a Headbutt of Love with Boles.
  • Hemo Erotic: Boles manages to fall through the roof of a greenhouse—apparently it was buried in snow. Veronkha comes to his aid, finding him all sliced up on the floor of the greenhouse. She then takes a shard of glass and deliberately cuts her own forehead, before giving Boles a Headbutt of Love.
  • Hong Kong Dub: This whole film was made in a Retreaux style meant to evoke a film from the early talkie era. Part of that is having most of the dialogue being dubbed quite poorly, sometimes out of sync with the actors' mouths, and sometimes with the actors' mouths not moving at all.
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit: Both Veronkha and Danchuk fight on the front lines against the Germans and Bolsheviks, while wearing fancy dresses and Nice Hats.
  • Lowered Recruiting Standards: The Allied force in Archangel is basically the bottom of the barrel, with walking wounded, psychiatric discharges, and Boles the one-legged officer all being part of the army.
  • Narrator: Occasionally a narrator is heard on the soundtrack delivering deeply bizarre dialogue about the nature of love, or how Veronkha believed that "darkness" is a tangible thing that one can hold in one's hands.
  • The Peeping Tom: A rare gay version, as Geza, a boy of about 12, looks through the window as Boles strips nude before getting into bed.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Boles is fixated on getting Veronkha to be his new Iris. He goes so far as to tell her that she's Iris when she loses her memory.
  • Retraux: Archangel was shot to look like an early talkie, circa 1928-29. So it's in black and white, there is a noticeable flicker as the film plays, the acting is hammy and stiff as was often the case with early talkies, and dialogue is dubbed poorly and out of sync.
  • Stylistic Suck: The film is made to look and sound like an early talkie. So the picture flickers, the dialogue is poorly dubbed, and the image is rather fuzzy, as if it's a duplicate of a duplicate of a duplicate. When Jannings is gutted by a Bolshevik and his intestines spill out, it's painfully obvious that his "intestines" are sausage links.
  • Surrealism: Strange, bizarre imagery throughout. Geza at one point gets covered by poorly animated spiders. Lt. Boles is carrying around an urn holding his girlfriend's ashes. A narrator says stuff like "darkness can be sculpted into huge furry vaults and complex corridors." Soldiers in a trench are surprised to be greeted with a flood of...bunny rabbits.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Jannings is too meek to whip his son, and he fakes a case of gout so he doesn't have to serve in the White army. He cowers in fear when Bolshevkis burst into his home and attack his family. Yet in the end, after a Bolshevik literally guts him with a bayonet, he kills them all, poking one's eye out and strangling another with his own spilled intestines.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Western Allies actually did make incursions around the periphery of Russia in 1918-1919, including capturing the port of Archangel, in an effort to reconstitute an Eastern Front of World War I and, later, help the White Russians.
  • Video Credits: Images of all the main characters play over the end credits.
  • War Is Glorious: Veronkha, fighting side-by-side with Boles, shoots an enemy soldier and then shouts "I feel so alive!".
  • Winged Soul Flies Off at Death: The soul of a killed White soldier is shown leaving his body. Later, when young Geza is shot and killed in an attack against the Bolsheviks, his dead father Jannings's soul shows up and helps pull Geza's soul out.
  • World of Ham: All the acting is stilted and hammy. This is deliberate and part of the Retraux style of the film, imitating early talkies, when actors unused to delivering spoken dialogue to a camera were often wooden and uncomfortable.

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