A multilayered journey through the hometown in his head, Guy Maddin’s “My Winnipeg” is a vigorous caprice of fact and fiction. Employing the filmmaker’s by now-familiar but no less unique fusion of silent film technique and pre-moistened melodrama, pic explores a version of his roots that may not be entirely true but sure is entertaining. Though it may feel undernourished to the faithful, “Winnipeg” is an easily digestible meal, for the uninitiated and fans alike, featuring Maddin’s utterly individual worldview, suggesting receipts and ancillary on par with his recent work, if not modestly better.
Maddin speaks his own intentionally turgid narration (he is credited with writing the narration; George Toles is credited with the dialogue) with a flat urgency. “Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg,” he declaims, as he describes Manitoba’s cold, industrial capital city near the geographical center of North America. “Snowy, sleepwalking Winnipeg… I must leave it. I must leave it. I must leave it now. But how to escape one’s city?”
The conveyance he’s chosen is a contraption of history and memory. Billed as a documentary but described more accurately by him as a “docu-fantasia,” pic intertwines a recounting of Maddin’s childhood, utilizing facts real and outlandish, with cultural touchstone’s from Winnipeg’s past, both authentic and really outlandish.
Thus, a funny rant about the shoddy treatment of professional hockey arenas and beloved department stores, victims of the wrecking ball, share time with such lesser-known local happenings as horses encased in river ice, a ballet-cum seance and the movement to lodge homeless people on downtown roofs. The intentional blurring of fact and fiction — or maybe it’s just more outlandish fact? — gives pic an air of irreverent mystery.
Narrative spine imagines an actor, perhaps playing Maddin, shoehorned in a train car and struggling to stay awake as the train moves through the nocturnal city. Helmer tells us Winnipeg has 10 times the sleepwalking rate of any city in the world. Is it true? Yes or no, it’s a terrific metaphor.
Among pic’s funniest yet most emotionally charged threads is 1940s B-movie icon Ann Savage, star of Edgar G. Ulmer’s “Detour,” as Maddin’s domineering mother. Her showdown with Maddin’s screen sister over a suspicious road accident, featuring over-the-top dialogue from regular Maddin collaborator George Toles, will feature in helmer’s future highlight reel.
Cumulative effect is a volatile stew of anger mixed with regret, a certain affection for family and place tempered by a hushed meditation on faith and fervent embrace of the mystic.
Length has been a worry in some of the helmer’s recent works, including “The Saddest Music in the World” and “Brand Upon the Brain!” Wisely, Maddin’s kept this psycho-geographic field trip to a brisk 80 minutes, long enough to appreciate the bombastic tenor of the piece without bludgeoning auds into submission.
Tech package is Maddinian. Deep, rich sound accompanies distressed, often unfocused black-and-white shots of nighttime winter streets, garishly lit interiors and archival footage. Splashes of color in cut-out animation segs add to the texture.
Through much of pic, clearly fake snow is superimposed to underscore the city’s cold cold heart. Helmer was skedded to do a live rendition of his narration at the public Toronto fest preem.