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Maelstrom Reviews

Visually striking and viscerally repellent, director Denis Villeneuve's Quebecois oddity offers a nightmarish vision of one woman's unraveling, the likes of which haven't been seen since Roman Polanski pushed Catherine Deneuve off the deep end in REPULSION (1965). And not since SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) have we encountered a more unusual narrator: For reasons that are never really clear, the narrative is recounted by a large fish that's slowly being hacked to pieces in what looks to be Hell's last fish market. The finny martyr uses its last breaths to tell us a "pretty story" about 25-year-old Bibi Champagne (Marie-Josee Croze), the beautiful daughter of a famous mother and successful proprietor of three chic Canadian clothing boutiques. But for all the glamour, Bibi's life is anything but a party: Her business is in serious financial trouble and she's just ended an unwanted pregnancy the hard way. Increasingly isolated and depressed, Bibi sinks into a deep funk that she tries to brighten by having casual sex with strangers and pulling all-nighters at trendy clubs. One night, while driving home after a drink- and drug-fueled evening out, Bibi hits an elderly Norwegian fishmonger (Klimbo) with her car and flees instead of stopping. She awakens the next morning unsure of exactly what happened, but notices a shred of hair and scalp stuck to the underside of her car, and begins dreaming of writhing eels. The accident doesn't so much trigger a chain of events as a whirlpool of circumstances, occurrences and coincidences that both draw Bibi deeper into madness and edge her closer to redemption. This strange film, which managed to net five Genie Awards (including one for Best Motion Picture), is filled with portentous pronouncements, Norwegian folk songs, Maoist slogans, Godardian references and bizarre images, many of the gross-out variety. But it's hard to say what it all amounts to or why any of it needs to be narrated by a fish. The film's final moment, in which our gilled and gasping narrator's promise to reveal the ultimate secret of our existence is cut short by a falling cleaver, is emblematic of Villeneuve's general unwillingness to reveal much of anything. Chalk it up to perverse playfulness, making the soundtrack's combination of Edvard Grieg, Tom Waits and "Good Morning Starshine" exactly right. (In French, with English subtitles.)