"Archangel," directed by the Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, is a surrealist homage to the silent film era. It tells the story of Lieutenant John Boles, a one-legged Canadian soldier haunted by memories of his dead wife, who is sent to the city of Archangel in the Russian Arctic during the first World War to help the Russians fight against the Bolsheviks, and becomes caught up in an absurd love triangle. Guy Maddin and George Toles wrote the screenplay.
Archangel, released in 1990, intertwines the stories of Boles (Kyle McCulloch) and Philbin (Ari Cohen), a Belgian aviator, who suffers from memory loss due to the effects of mustard gas. Philbin's wife Veronkha (Kathy Marykuca) a Russian nurse who bears an uncanny resemblance to Boles' dead wife, Iris, shares her husband's forgetful traits. Veronkha and Philbin apparently forget that they are married to one another. Boles, believing that Iris has returned to him, marries Veronkha. Meanwhile, Boles's landlady, Danchuk (Sarah Neville) falls in love with him.
Archangel was filmed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the summer of 1989. Shot in grainy black and white with jerky camera angles, and featuring a 1920s soundtrack, the film mingles melodrama and parody of what "The New York Times" describes as "the twilight zone between silent and talking films." The Russian snow and the city of Archangel's looming spires and onion domes provide an atmospheric backdrop to this tragic pastiche of confused love.
Maddlin's celebrated surrealist humor seeps into some of the film's most memorable scenes. Rabbits invade the Russian soldiers' trenches, and in another scene, a stroke victim is successfully resuscitated with a horse brush.
"Archangel" won the U.S. National Society of Film Critics' Prize for Best Experimental Film in 1991. "The New York Times" described the film as an "expert parody of a period movie style," while London's "Time Out" magazine said it was "inspired."