Director: Guy Maddin
Starring: Anne Savage
Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg isn’t quite a documentary, nor is it entirely a fiction. It’s more like a magic realist memoir, an evocation of time and place filtered through nostalgia and fantasy and personal mythology. I didn’t come away from it feeling as though I’d learned much about Winnipeg (anything factual, at any rate), but I was thoroughly entertained and, by the end, quite moved by this absurdist and surreal love letter to a city.
The film unfolds in an anecdotal fashion as Maddin relates stories about his family and childhood interspersed with stories both real and imagined about the city of Winnipeg itself. Winnipeg is home to the greatest number of sleepwalkers in the world, we learn, and also, for one winter, the location of a dozen frozen race horses who fled into a lake and remained trapped there until the Spring thaw. These stories and others are related in a way that is both humorous and sad, told from the perspective of someone who at once longs for the past which can never be recreated, but also wants to escape into something new and different. While “fact” and “fiction” are liberally blended to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two, the resonant and poetic way in which Maddin narrates his stories makes you want to believe that it’s all true, and you find yourself as engrossed by what you know to be fiction as you are by what you know to be fact.
If you’ve ever seen a Guy Maddin film, you’ll be familiar with the aesthetic at play in this one, a design which brings to mind films from the silent era and early sound era, and editing which emphasizes the juxtaposition of images rather than masking that juxtaposition beneath the narrative. In the film Maddin will blend archival footage, animation, home video, still photos, and recreations starring kids whom he acknowledges to be actors playing his siblings and a woman he would have us believe is actually his mother, though in reality she is actress Anne Savage.
The figure of his mother is central to the film’s story, the heart of the heart much as he declares that Winnipeg is the heart of the heart of Canada. She is the all knowing figure who seems to possess the keys to the past, symbolically tying Maddin to his hometown. It is her that he is trying to escape, and it is to her that he finds himself continually drawn back by memory and love and shared experiences. She is the constant in the midst of continual change – for the worse, Maddin believes, particularly in the realm of hockey arenas – as the past is slowly swept away through the city, torn down, demolished, and rebuilt as something new and soulless.
There are a lot of good directors, people who consistently produce solid, well-made films; but there are only a few genuinely great directors, people who redefine the boundaries of cinema and storytelling, whose films are so distinctly their own that no other artist could possibly have made them. I believe that Guy Maddin has earned his place in this latter category. Every time I see one of his movies, I’m just so grateful that someone like him exists and is making movies like this one.