With this stunning film following his excellent feature debut, 32nd August on Earth/Un 32 août sur terre, Denis Villeneuve has emerged as a major force in French-Canadian cinema. Like 32nd August, Maelstrom begins with an accident which throws its beautiful young heroine into crisis and forces her
to take stock of her life. A seemingly successful young businesswoman, Bibiane (Marie-Josee Croze) begins to lose control after she drunkenly slams her car into a pedestrian. Overcome with remorse, she dedicates herself to undercover penitence. Her snooping leads to a funeral home encounter with the dead man’s handsome son, who takes Bibiane to be his father’s concerned neighbour. The ruse grows more painful as the duo commence an affair that’s idyllic in every aspect except her secret guilt.
Far from being a conventional love story, Maelstrom is an invigoratingly audacious contemporary fable that mixes elements whimsical, macabre and romantic to determinedly offbeat effect. The entire film is narrated by a large, grotesque talking fish who delivers weighty philosophical pronouncements and plot commentary whilst awaiting his chopping-block fate. This fantastical framing device is just the most elaborate and outlandish of Villeneuve’s juxtapositions in a film that’s rigorously structured around a series of visual correspondences. Much easier to appreciate than describe, Maelstrom really conveys both the pain and the black humour of unbearable turbulence.
Canada-Norway, 2000. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 95 mins.

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