Fact, fantasy and memory are woven seamlessly together in this portrait of film-maker Guy Maddin's home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba.Fact, fantasy and memory are woven seamlessly together in this portrait of film-maker Guy Maddin's home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba.Fact, fantasy and memory are woven seamlessly together in this portrait of film-maker Guy Maddin's home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
No other filmmaker alive puts so much effort into chipping away at the audience's sense of logic and running them through a grinder of their own twisted subconscious.
Beginning with his feature debut Tales from the Gimli Hospital in 1988, Maddin has remained furiously independent, the closest he's ever come to mainstream success being 2003's The Saddest Music in the World, which acted as a kind-of holy grail for film buffs and those obsessed with the days of cinema past. My Winnipeg may be the purest distillation of his unique aesthetic vision to date, almost surely because it's paradoxically the most personal and fantastical.
In essence, the film is a love-letter to Maddin's hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. It's a rueful love-letter though, because the film opens with the director hurriedly explaining that he needs to, has to leave forever. But he can't bring himself to do it. The solution? He'll hire actors to recreate scenes from his childhood, in a desperate attempt to attain some obscure kind of closure. In a fabulously inventive instance of casting, B-movie veteran Ann Savage (Edward G. Ulmer's Detour) plays his "real" mom playing herself.
Maddin augments the often hilarious film-within-a-film with bizarre "facts" about Winnipeg, like how it has the 10 times the sleepwalking rate of any other city or that Maddin himself was born in the locker room of the local hockey arena only to return three days later as a newborn to attend his first game. These half-truths attain a kind-of mythic status when combined with Maddin's haunting visuals that, like most of his filmography, harken back to the choppy, rapid-fire pace of German expressionism and the heart-on-sleeve emotion of '40s and '50s melodrama.
It shouldn't be surprising how funny My Winnipeg is, considering that Maddin might be the most unpretentious avant-garde filmmaker of all-time. His casual, matter-of-fact narration blends perfectly with the film's stark poetic images, making the many leaps of fancy that much more potent. When he describes a "secret" taxi company that operates only on Winnipeg's darkened back streets or ruminates on the beauty of "snow fossils" caused by plodding winter footsteps, it's downright impossible not to be overcome with feelings of deep nostalgia and wonder.
Maddin has made faux-biographical films before, 2006's Brand Upon the Brain the most notorious example, but with My Winnipeg, it feels like he's finally letting us in. Of course, it's just as likely that he's putting us on, and if he is, it's one of the most staggeringly beautiful con games ever committed to celluloid.
- Oct 14, 2008