My Winnipeg

Dir: Guy Maddin, 2007. Starring: Darcy Fur, Ann Savage, Louis Negin. Cult.
My Winnipeg
Guy Maddin is one of the world's greatest filmmakers. He is an artist with a visual aesthetic and command of cinema surely derived straight from the heavens. His movies explode with fantastic imagery—strange sights that turn his memories and perverted sense of nostalgia into menacing fantasias of great beauty and power. His films always feel like critiques of history and cinema masquerading as tour de force spectacles. For example The Saddest Music in the World works as a critique of the capitalist degradation of art but it also works on such feverish imagery as Isabella Rossellini's strangely beautiful glass legs filled with beer. The plots, such as they are, seem to belong to a different era where "suspension of disbelief" was more bendable than it is now though there's no mistaking Maddin's postmodern sensibility for any time but now. He manages to blend the exclamatory cliches of Russian and German silent film with the camp melodrama of Douglas Sirk, the erotic nightmare quality of primo Noir, and his own offbeat Canadian sense of humor into something totally unique. The only other filmmaker I know of who seems to be a true contemporary of Maddin is David Lynch but even he doesn't seem to be as consistently interesting as Maddin.

With My Winnipeg Maddin turns his usual subtextual critiques of history and memory into the actual theme of the film and so My Winnipeg is different from his other films in that we know what he is trying to accomplish upfront. It's a pseudo documentary and the subject is Winnipeg—Maddin's hometown and the source of most of his artistic fixations.  He recreates events from his childhood with his mother (played by Detour actress Ann Savage). He details the nocturnal state that defines life in Winnipeg where sleepwalking is common. He chronicles the alternately traumatic and intoxicating lessons in sexual discovery that he received from hanging around the Catholic girl's school, swimming pools, and hockey rinks of Winnipeg as a youngster.

Maddin has fun playing with documentary form. He tells us that his real mother will play herself and reenact scenes from their lives but that he brought in a cast of actors to fill out the rest of the roles of his family while his girlfriend's pug, Spanky, is cast to play the family's long-dead chihuahua. Scenes of endless snow, trains in the night, and Catholic girls' plaid skirts with thighs exposed are juxtaposed to create a sense of what life in Winnipeg has meant for Guy Maddin. Though the city has changed over the years, much to his dislike, he can't ever seem to escape it just like he can never truly escape his psychic overlord—his mother. The film is by turns both charming, melancholy, and spellbinding. Through all of this hypnotically strange and emotional imagery, though, Maddin never loses his dry, unassuming sense of humor that is as Canadian as a maple long john. Perhaps that's why I ultimately prefer Maddin to Lynch. Both are obsessed with strange worlds of the past built from memory and obsession but Maddin seems less aloof and perhaps more sincere.

Posted by:
Jed Leland
Sep 21, 2011 6:19pm
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