Guy Maddin’s bizarre imagination spins forth a tale of depression-era Canada in one of the more fantastical stories of the year. Set in Winnipeg during the height of the Depression, a legless beer baroness played by Isabella Rosselini (“Merlin”) hosts a contest to find which country has the saddest music in the world. The contest attracts her old lover played by Mark McKinney (“Kids in the Hall”), his brother, whose wife he has stolen and their father who amputated the baroness Lady Port-Huntley in an act of confused devotion. And that’s just the easy part.
The plot serves a vehicle for Madden to display his oddball sense of humor and visual style, which is a combination of German Expressionism and silent film projected through a foggy snowglobe on 8 mm film. Participants flock in from around the globe to display how very sad their individual nation’s sorrow is. Countries are pitted against each other in a humorous death match style, where the winner is given the thumb of approval and then dumped into a vat of beer. Each nation’s music is genuinely sad, a fact underscored and ridiculed by the foolish commentary of the contest’s two announcers.
As the contestant pool slims down, the final battle between the two brothers has dually hysterical and serious consequences. At this point some parts of the film have dragged but the payoff makes it worth it.
It’s hard to uniformly recommend this film because of the niche appeal of its visual style and humor, but if one can move away from the blockbuster fare of the summer, there is an unique slice of bizarre and fun of anti-Americanism waiting.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars