I remember the day I discovered Guy Maddin. I was filling a gap in my film festival schedule and The Saddest Music in the World happened to fit. What I didn’t bargain for was Maddin’s style. Here was a director, Canadian no less!, making a movie unlike anything I’d seen before. It looked old, it sounded old, it was melodramatic and every moment was enjoyable. In a sea of film that all looked alike, this was something new and refreshing. That was my first run in with Maddin but not the last.
Over the years I’ve seen a dozen or so films from Maddin’s long filmogaphy and though I’m sometimes happy to simply let them wash over me in a haze of grainy film and crackling music, there are a few that I have come to love. Enter my list of favourite Guy Maddin films.
5. Careful (1992)
In an alpine village were emotions are kept under wraps lest a sudden loud sound trigger an avalanche (awesome premise) that will kill everyone, a young man lusts after his mother while in a parallel story, a young woman is attracted to her father. Taboo relationships, love potions and super creepy music are only the beginning.
4. The Saddest Music in the World (2003)
The great Isabella Rossellini (along with Portuguese starlet Maria de Medeiros) stars as a beer baroness (only in Canada!) who during the Great Depression, organizes a contest to find which nation has the saddest music in the world with a first prize of $25,000. Only Maddin would think to pair something as depressing as the Great Depression with sad music but the film is anything but depressing. And honestly, with a tagline that reads “If you’re sad, and like beer, I’m your lady” how could anyone possibly resist?
3. Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002)
For this project, Maddin was tasked with filming the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary,” itself an interpretation of Stoker’s classic tale, for the CBC and the result is one of the darkest dance films I’ve ever seen. Captured in black and white with the occasional burst of colour and Maddin’s trademark tinting, Maddin’s style is a perfect pairing with this dark ballet featuring the haunting music of Gustav Mahler. Perhaps this one shouldn’t really count as it isn’t really a film but Maddin’s approach provides an entirely new layer of menace to the already haunting ballet.
2. Brand Upon the Brain (2006)
At his mother’s dying wish, our protagonist Guy Maddin returns to his childhood home on a now abandoned island. He’s there’s to paint the lighthouse which also served as an orphanage that his parents used to run but memories begin to surface and we discover that Maddin’s parents were experimenting on the children. A twisted tale of abuse, is also an unlikely mix of teen detective story and horror film bundled together in Maddin’s surrealistic style.
1. My Winnipeg (2007)
Maddin’s most personal film is also his most successful. A humorous history of Winnipeg told by the director through memories of his childhood, it’s a mix of personal tales, some feel like the half remembered dreams from a child’s perspective, and history that bring the city alive. A beautifully companion piece to Terence Davies very similar approach (though much different delivery) Of Time and the City (review).