Nobody makes films that even remotely resemble those of Guy Maddin. Over the past 20 years, the Canadian director has created a pictorial language of stuttery, distressed, halated imagery — the vintage atmosphere of silent movies — that summons waves of memory and obscure longing. In the new “My Winnipeg,” his tenth feature, he brings this technique to bear on his snowy hometown, a provincial metropolis about which he has wildly mixed feelings, and which he can’t seem to escape, at least in his head. As always, his head is an exotic place to visit.
In voiceover, Maddin tells us that he has returned to “snowy, sleepwalking Winnipeg” in order to exorcise its hold on him. “We sleep as we walk, walk as we dream,” he says, reaching back into his childhood and his imagination to show us a profusion of local wonders: children tobogganing down a snow-blanketed garbage mound (“the only hill in board-flat Winnipeg”); the Ballet Club, site of séances back in the 1920s, where the founder danced out messages from beyond; a bridge originally built for Egypt, but which “wouldn’t fit the river there”; a surreal field of dead horses, their heads rearing up through the snow as local folk stroll among them.
We learn about his family, especially his mother, a beautician. (“I’ve often wondered what effect growing up in a hair salon had on me,” he says. “In that gynocracy.”) As part of this exorcism, Maddin has rented his childhood home, restored it to its original glory (“the crummy sofa, the comfy chair”), and hired a group of actors to portray his family. Since his father is long dead, he arranges, in a dream-state sequence, to have the old man’s body exhumed and reinterred under the living-room rug. But it’s his mother with whom he’s most obsessed — “a force from which I can’t turn away for long.” (Mom is played by 87-year-old Ann Savage, the unforgettable femme fatale, back in 1945, of the Poverty Row noir classic, “Detour.”)
Throughout the film, Maddin cuts away to a train compartment where traveling men sway woozily to the lurching rhythms of their conveyance. It’s a dark, mesmerizing image. But are the men on their way to Winnipeg, or are they making their escape? Is Maddin among them? Will he ever know?
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