Aug 31, 2008

My Winnipeg

During the Sunday afternoon matinee, while watching My Winnipeg, I reminded myself of just how little of Guy Maddin's recent work I've seen. Other than his note-perfect short Heart of the World, I would -gasp- have to go back to Careful in 1992! Oh my. Granted, there is only so much time on one's hands, and certain circumstances or particular moods govern what we see at any moment, but I sheepishly confess I will have to get caught up on Maddin's most recent work this fall.

And based on his most recent film, My Winnipeg, Maddin just might be the modern saviour of cinema, although I'm sure this humble man wouldn't be comfortable with such a superlative title. And here in self-conscious Canada, we certainly do need a cinematic voice again. For my tastes, the once-distinctive styles of Cronenberg and Egoyan have both become bland. But 20 years after his first feature, Tales from Gimli Hospital, Guy Maddin's singular style has not only remained a joy to behold, but he continues to make arresting and challenging pictures like this.

This seriocomic, quasi-autobiographical part love-letter / poison pen about his native Winnipeg weaves truth and fiction, and conveys a dream-like state much like the ominprescent sleeping travellers that permeate the movie (and apparently, Winnipeg too). The present folds in with the past as Maddin laments over the destruction of great institutions in The Peg, and even attempts to come to terms with old familial scars by hiring actors to play his family circa 1963. Reality blends with the woozy atmosphere as some local celebrities pay themselves, adding to the feel as the film walks that thin line between conscious and subconscious thought much like the nodding train riders.

Shot in crisp black and white (what beautiful snow!), Maddin's style is of course evocative of silent films -especially German expressionism- and uses old cinematic devices like the rear-screen projection unit to convey a perfect dream-world. And in further reverence to the creaky old movies that Guy Maddin loves, Ann Savage (yes, that Ann Savage from the B-noir classic Detour) plays his domineering mother, playing the film's Oedipal card to the hilt.

Alternately hilarious and hypnotic, this is a real tour-de-force-- a note-perfect marriage of form and content. My Winnipeg is wildly experimental with its layered images, frenetic editing, and use of title cards to add another level of narrative. However one needn't be schooled in 100 years of alternate film history to appreciate it. The film is universal and playful enough that any open-minded audience can enjoy it.

My Winnipeg works on so many levels that a mere blog rave cannot do it justice, yet it is a film I would gleefully visit several times. Maybe this will be on DVD before Christmas. It would be a perfect thing to watch in our homes while sheltered from the cold, as the endless winter surrounds the sleepwalking characters on screen.

God bless Guy Maddin-- it's been a long time since my faith has been restored in new cinema.

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