A musical of sorts set in Winnipeg during the Great Depression, where a beer baroness organizes a contest to find the saddest music in the world. Musicians from around the world descend on the city to try and win the $25,000 prize.
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It's the winter of 1933 in Winnipeg. In honor of Winnipeg being named the sorrow capital of the world for the Depression era for the fourth year running by the London Times, Lady Helen Port-Huntley, the legless owner of Winnipeg's Port-Huntley Beer, is hosting and judging a contest to see which nation has the saddest music in the world, the winner to take home a $25,000 prize. Seeing as to the current Prohibition in the United States, Lady Port-Huntley has ulterior motives for the contest. Father and son, streetcar conductor Fyodor Kent and New York based musical producer Chester Kent, who both have a past connection to Lady Port-Huntley (Fyodor, a WWI veteran and former doctor, has fashioned for her an unusual pair of artificial legs apropos to her business), want to represent Canada and the United States respectively in the contest. Despite Lady Port-Huntley's hatred for the Kent's, she does allow them to do so if only to advance her own priorities. As the contest takes place, the ... Written by
Guy Maddin just gets better and better. In this, his latest film, he's outdone himself. The fusion of content and style is so brilliant, clever, and emotional, the film has to rank as one of the best of 2004 even with the year not yet being half over.
Set in 1933, "the depths of the Great Depression", the location is Winnipeg, Canada, home of Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rosselini), the astoundingly wealthy beer baroness of Canada, who decides to hold a contest to select the saddest music in the world--for business reasons, of course. Among the entrants are her former lover, Chester Kent (Mark McKinney), his current lover Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros), Chester's estranged brother Roderick (Ross McMillan)--separated from Narcissa, and the men's father, Duncan (Claude Dorge). Duncan represents Canada; Chester, America; and Roderick, Serbia (of all places).
The prize is $25,000, a fortune in those days, so naturally there are entrants from all over the world--among which are Mexico, Siam, and Africa. The music is inspired, but eventually converges on the lilting popular American tune The Song is You, for which there are diverse renditions in the course of the film. The show-stopper is the version by Chester near the end, a big band production that fuses influences, in typical American fashion, from all over the world.
Familial tensions converge with unrequited love, and with the most peculiar prostheses anyone has ever seen--either in real life or on film. Lady Port-Huntly is a double amputee, and he whose reckless mistake resulted in her unfortunate current condition fashions for her a pair of legs that must be seen to be believed.
The entire film is shot using a blue-haze filter, with a faux stereopticon effect that narrows the viewing screen to that resembling what one would see from the early days of film, and with the faintest, subtlest and tiniest of lags in action-speech synchronization that makes this uncannily resonate as a work fusing a 30s setting, a pre-20s style, and a contemporary sensibility that knows how to combine these elements in the first place. This is a truly brilliant--I would even call it genius--approach to filmmaking that noone else in the known world even remotely approaches. Maddin is one of the contemporary masters of cinema and this is the proof.
As soon as this is available on DVD, I will buy it immediately. I suggest you do the same.
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