Review: ‘The Twilight of the Ice Nymphs’

The Twilight of the Ice Nymphs," the latest from iconoclastic Canuck filmmaker Guy Maddin, is a demanding mixture of Gothic romance, Euro expressionism and Shakespearean fancy. A yarn about the cruelty of love, the picture is an eerie visual reverie with an often daunting narrative. The film won't enlarge the small circle who have embraced Maddin's earlier "Tales From the Gimli Hospital" and "Careful"; theatrical prospects are confined to a niche of a niche audience, both domestically and abroad, with limited spinoff in video and pay cable. The yarn centers on Peter Glahn (uncredited Nigel Whitmey), a former political prisoner who is returning to the mythical Mandragora, where the sun never sets. Aboard ship, he encounters the mysterious Julianna Kossel (Pascale Bussieres), who promptly vanishes, but not before captivating his heart.

Ashore, he goes to the family ostrich farm run by his sister Amelia (Shelley Duvall). What slowly emerges is a complex set of passionate connections. Amelia is heartsick for the vain and duplicitous Dr. Solti (R.H. Thompson), who has a manipulative hold on both Zephyr (Alice Krige), the widow of a fisherman, and Julianna. But Solti’s true love is a recently discovered statue of Venus with strange powers and an apparent desire for Zephyr. The lethal unraveling finds Amelia taking out her frustration on her handyman (Frank Gorshin) and the rest killed, spurned or gone mad.

Once again Maddin sets his tale in an unspecified bygone time and creates a hallucinatory environment on soundstages. The elements of magic and confinement recall “The Tempest,” but George Toles’ script fails to connect the mythic and the temporal, producing an ultimately unsatisfying effort.

Whitmey, who removed his name from the picture when he was re-dubbed by another actor, is nonetheless effective as a cipher amid the action. The picture also sports effective turns by Krige, Thompson and especially Bussieres, while Duvall is overly shrill as Amelia. Overall, Maddin’s first effort with seasoned performers is extremely promising, and he continues to grow as a visual craftsman. But he’s in need of better material to develop the unique film voice his past films promised.

The Twilight of the Ice Nymphs



An Alliance release of a Marble Island Pictures production. Produced by Richard Findlay. Executive producers, Derek Masur, Charlotte Mickie. Directed by Guy Maddin. Screenplay, George Toles; story consulant, Norma Bailey.


Camera (Deluxe color), Michael Marshall; editor, Reginald Harkema; music, John McCulloch; production design, Rejean Labrie; art direction, Ian Handford; costume design, Donna Szoke; ostrich wrangler, Dwight Wolfe; assistant director, Richard O'Brien-Moran. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (Panorama Canada), Aug. 27, 1997. (Also in Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 91 MIN.


Julianna Kossel ..... Pascale Bussieres Peter Glahn ..... Nigel Whitmey Amelia Glahn ..... Shelley Duvall Cain Ball ..... Frank Gorshin Zephyr Eccles ..... Alice Krige Dr. Issac Solti ..... R.H. Thompson Matthew Eccles ..... Ross McMillan
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