THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD Movie Review
Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin is often compared to David Lynch. In reality, his influences hail from decades long gone: from the silent-era Germans and the early Hollywood pioneers. His exuberant, expressionistic 2000 short film "The Heart of the World," made for the Toronto Film Festival, was rightly hailed as a mini-masterwork, and now here he is with a new feature film that captures some of that magic once again.
"The Saddest Music in the World" takes place in 1933 Winnipeg. A wealthy beer baroness, Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rossellini) is the only one making a decent living; everyone wants to drink their sorrows away. To boost business she announces a contest to determine the saddest music in the world. Each of the world's countries may enter once, and so an estranged father and two sons from far corners of the globe reunite for the contest.
The father, Fyodor (David Fox), represents Canada, the happy-go-lucky Broadway producer Chester Kent (Mark McKinney) represents America and Roderick (Ross McMillan) represents Serbia. The woeful Roderick is a world-renowned cellist who mourns his dead child and his lost wife, Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros), who is now dating Chester. Chester champions the vulgar side of America, the urge to make everything big and bright with little regard for anyone else's feelings.
In the meantime, Fyodor pines away, unrequited, for Lady Port-Huntly. The latter lost her legs in an auto accident due to Fyodor's drunkenness, and now her heart belongs to Chester. Fyodor builds her a pair of glass legs filled with beer to help make her whole again, but it only increases her hatred of him and her longing for Chester.
Maddin packs so many ideas, both old and new, into his gorgeous 96 minutes that it's impossible to describe it all with mere words; it's pure visual splendor. He presents his film in a kind of grainy black-and-white that makes it look both horrible and wonderful at the same time, conjuring both warm and cold nostalgia.
On the one hand, it feels like an old Hollywood film, complete with McKinney's superb, snappy, Cagney-like performance, but it's also so offbeat that it feels totally new. (Bursts of garish color flicker in from time to time, just to break things up.) Someone recently described it as a 1930s Hollywood musical from another planet, and I certainly can't say it any better.