01 August 2002

Reviewing Maelström

Denis Villeneuve's Quebecois Maelström is delicious, playful, emotionally scatty yet physically precise, a dazzling, intent portrayal of a 25-year-old woman's life as she falls into unlikely chaos. There is death, love, death, love, and on and on in this post-Kieslowski anecdote of making one's luck in the face of fate while striving for redemption. (And let us not overlook that it is narrated by a series of sarcastic, Serge Gainsbourg-voiced fish on a butcher's table.) Maelström is mannered and elliptical and intellectual, yet it is, in its command of mood and detail, as accessible as the intense serenity of a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or the smoldering, crackerjack Kar-Wai-wardness of In the Mood for Love. Villeneuve's style is idiosyncratic to a generous extreme, a mellifluous jumble of all sorts of imagery, such as a meeting of the paintings of the anachro-fabulist freak-face-loving Odd Nerdrum and a few daylight-striated issues of Elle Décor—but what we are asked to sup upon is immaculately cinematic, the most profound sort of rebuke against the compromises we are all being asked to make, as viewers, critics and filmmakers, in the embrace of generally subpar digital video as an exhibition medium.