Maddin cooks up some tasty visuals in quirky film
By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Guy Maddin
STARS Ann Savage, Darcy Fehr
There won't be a more abstract and experimental movie released in Charlotte this summer -- perhaps this year -- than Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, yet for all its whimsical flourishes and avant-garde innovations, its biggest source of delight is decidedly a flesh-and-blood one. That would be the presence of 87-year-old Ann Savage, appearing on screen for the first time in 22 years. Film buffs will remember Savage as the slinky femme fatale in the 1945 film noir classic Detour, and here she plays the other type of femme fatale: mommy dearest.
The third picture in what Maddin refers to as "the 'me' trilogy" -- it's preceded by 2003's Cowards Bend the Knee and 2006's Brand Upon the Brain! (the latter released on DVD this past Tuesday by Criterion) -- My Winnipeg finds a character named Guy Maddin (played by Darcy Fehr, though the film's ongoing narration is spoken by the real Maddin himself) trying desperately to escape from his hometown on a train that never seems to make any real tracks. As he sits there, he reflects back on what the city means to him, even as the oversized face of his mom (Savage) peers through the boxcar window, not unlike the manner in which the looming visage of King Kong peeks through that New York skyscraper window at a terrified Fay Wray.
To understand his childhood, Maddin (the character) goes so far as to hire actors to portray not only Mother but also his siblings (since Dad was already dead at this point, he's represented by a body shoved under the living room carpet). Through both these scenes and ones involving the history of this city, Maddin creates a rich tapestry weaving together fact and fiction: Though his somber narration sounds like everything he says is true, it's obvious that he's having great fun not only with experimental shooting techniques but with taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the fluidity of memory and the fallacy of historical accuracy. (One of the best bits involves the TV series Ledge Man, in which every episode over the course of its 50-year run finds a mom, played by Savage, successfully talking her son out of committing suicide, only to be back in the same spot for the next day's episode.)
Anyone who saw 2002's mesmerizing Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary -- to my knowledge the only previous Maddin film to play the Queen City, and that's only because the Charlotte Film Society was gracious enough to book it -- might recall how the filmmaker particularly enjoys utilizing silent cinema techniques and black-and-white film stock. My Winnipeg goes even further, resulting in a wistful, melancholic movie that might be draggy in spots but never relinquishes its idiosyncratic grip.