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Tolzbad, somewhere high up in the Alps: The village is so threatened by
avalanches that nobody dares to utter a loud word to not set one off.
Likewise, children are tied up and gagged and farm animals and pets have
their vocal chords removed - In other words, everybody has to be extremely
careful. Having to watch out all the time and not being able to let out
one's emotions though leads to the simple fact that everyone has to bottle
up his or her feelings.
This is the backdrop for Johann (Brent Neale),
student of the local butler school, to fall in love with Klara (Sarah
Neville) - much to the dismay of his younger brother Grigorss (Kyle
McCulloch). Also, the blind ghost of his dead father (Michael O'Sullivan)
appears to his other catatonic brother Franz (Vince Rimmer), whom the
family keeps locked away in the attic and warns of disaster - but Franz of
course has no way to express himself ...
Eventually, Johann, who should
be lovesick for his bride but has way too pure feelings towards her, has
incestuous thoughts about his mother (Gosia Dobrowolska), and from here
it's not long before he drugs and rapes her. Upon fully comprehending what
he has done though, he burns his mouth, cuts off his fingers and leaps off
some cliff to his death.
With his brother gone, Grigorss tries to score
with Klara, but she thinks working in the local mines will be better
comfort for her, and apart from this, she has incestuous feelings towards
her father - but dad always prefers her sister Sigleinde (Katya Gardner)
to her - which drives her mad with jealousy.
finishes butler school top of his class, and is accepted as new butler in
the services of count Knotkers (Paul Cox) - who eventually confesses to
Grigorss that he is in love with his mother whom he knew when they both
were younger. Now, after his own mother has died, he tries to rekindle
that romance - much to the dismay of Grigorss, who sees the honour of his
father stained. When his mother tells him though that in return for his
blessings she will finally accept Franz as her son, he is satisfied -
until he meets Klara, who accuses him to be spineless and without honour
if he lets his mother and the count stain the honour of his dad - and
thus, Grigorss duels the count and kills him in the process. When she
learns about this, his mother kicks him out of home and hangs herself
right in front of Franz.
Klara shares her cave which only she knows
about with Grigorss, tells him her father has raped her, and this way gets
him to commit to killing her father - by firing a pistol to cause an
avalanche. As a reward, she promises him to share the rest of her life
with him in the cave. However, when Grigorss actually fires the pistol to
cause the avalanche, Klara suddenly throws herself onto her father and
kisses him like a lover, and it turns out she only wanted to die with him,
like lovers, which is something Sigleinde will never be able to share with
Grigorss returns to Klara's cave alone, and an outlaw, and it is
not long before an avalanche gets hold of him and kills him as well.
only Franz and Sigleinde are left alive, to look for the others, but while
Franz, cured from his catatonia but left spreechless by the horrible
experience of seeing his mother killing herself before his very eyes,
won't be able to call her, Sigleinde's eyes are so filled with tears that
she will not be able to see him.
In a way, this is Guy Maddin's
version of the mountain films of the silent and early sound era that were
particularly popular in German language countries - but while in the films
of old, the mountains always have an idyllic flair to them, here they are
pure menace, and while the old films tried for realism, this film's
backdrops are made quite obviously made out of cardboard, and neglect any
sort of realism in favour of their own style of expressionism.
word, Maddin has not set out to make just another mountain film, but a
very personal picture that tells a big story using intentionally
heavy-handed symbolism, absurd and surreal story devices, and his very own
cinematic language that might be influenced by films from the silent and
early sound era (like black and white and tinted scenes and a very
scratchy soundtrack), but Maddin was never one to just make an hommage to
whatever and instead creates a world with its own rules, even its own
cinematic rules, full of visually striking, other-worldly images and very
black humour. And in this world, even his often terribly wooden
actors (probably an intentional style element) make perfect sense.
all results in a film unlike anything you have seen before, a weird and
far-out experience halfway between here and the most bizarre drugtrip you
ever had, and an undeniable masterpiece.