Sunday, January 11, 2009

Film Review: MY WINNIPEG (2008, Guy Maddin)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 80 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Ann Savage (DETOUR), Louis Negin (SISSY-BOY SLAP PARTY), Darcy Fehr (COWARDS BEND THE KNEE).
Tag-line: "The truth is relative."
Awards: Named Best Canadian Film by Toronto Film Festival and the Toronto Film Critics Association, two key groups that snubbed Maddin back when he was doing his freshest, most inventive work.

It pains me greatly to say it, but MY WINNIPEG is a disappointment, and in many ways a massive justification by Maddin, for Maddin, telling himself that it's okay that he's never left Winnipeg, that it's okay not to grow as an artist. I'm usually a Maddin apologist. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, BRAND UPON THE BRAIN!, and THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD occupy well-deserved places on my list of all-time greatest films. Half of his appeal is his obsessive analysis of his own life, of Canada, his nitpicking self-hatred and need to almost LIVE in the past, to relive it again and again until he understands it, until it has either no power and he can shelve it away, or it has reached such lofty, mythological heights that he can lionize it, love it, and live with it. MY WINNIPEG takes the impressions, moments, and memories of Maddin's life, and feels the need to completely enumerate, catalogue, and give his feverish fantasies complete self-awareness. Maddin's running commentary is frequently amusing, but he is so much less of a writer and orator than someone like, say, Herzog, that it demystifies and overliteralizes of what we have previously only seen in glimpses and shadows. But there are moments of brilliance. Everything with DETOUR's Ann Savage (here, a stand-in for Guy's mother) is gold. Even the outtakes, which Maddin hilariously weaves into the film, are brilliant. But when he settles on this main thrust (reenacting childhood with actors in order to break free of the stranglehold of the past), he quickly changes gears and digresses, ultimately, and almost criminally, underusing Savage. Certain tangents, however (like the "Golden Boy" man pageants, the icy graveyard of frozen racehorses, and the "If Day" fake Nazi invasion), hit their notes perfectly, ranging from poeticism to hilarity. But overall, it seems repetitive and overly self-aware. No matter how eccentric, personal, cavernous, or hilarious the city may be, it is a frozen city, now dangerous, a frosty selpulcher that now threatens to swallow Maddin's promise. I sincerely hope that his subsequent work will emerge from the beneath the shadow of his past and stride confidently OUT of Winnipeg.

-Sean Gill

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