Published Jan 01, 2006The first words that come to mind are, "Hot damn!" My main complaint of previous Maddin films was that he didn’t provide a decoder ring — I always felt like I was missing out on a private joke. This doesn’t apply to The Saddest Music in the World; I loved this movie from start to finish. Maddin and his team use the power of cinema, music, beer and hockey to tell their tale of love, loss and memory; it takes catharsis to a new level.
It’s 1933, the masses are hungry, the people are suffering and America will soon end prohibition. Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini), knowing Canada is seen as "the happy suds party to the north," announces a contest to bring the world to Winnipeg and her brewery. Whoever plays the saddest music in the world will win $25,000. The contest reunites the Kent family: Chester (Mark McKinney), a failed Broadway impresario travelling with his nymphomaniac, amnesia-inflicted girlfriend Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros), his brother Roderick (Ross McMillan), a hypochondriac distraught over the death of his son and disappearance of his wife, posing as a Serbian cellist, and their alcoholic ex-surgeon father (David Fox). This is only the beginning and it gets better from here.
Maddin captures the texture of early ’30s film without parody. The costumes, and concepts of other nations, are consistent with the era (the "kayak dresses" stand out) of filmmaking. The acting is reminiscent of the transition from silents to talkies, when the gestures seemed too large for sound. The Saddest Music is sometimes outrageous but it’s never ridiculous, despite the fact that people slide into giant vats of beer and Lady Port-Huntley gets glass legs. I’ve no idea what Kazuo Ishiguro’s original screenplay was like but in Maddin’s hands it’s pure genius. (Lions Gate)