Geraldine BigelowRewind

The Saddest Music in the World

Directed by Guy Maddin 2003

At the height of the Great Depression, the beer Baroness Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rosselini) decides to boost her sales by announcing an international competition to determine the saddest music in the world. $25,000 Canadian dollars will be awarded to the most miserable competitor from a cavalcade of human despair.

Musicians arrive to snow-laden Winnipeg from all corners of the globe wearing their national dress. They look like figurines from a 1930s tourist shop window, enhanced by the grainy black and white film style used to emulate films of the silent period. Crammed tightly into the most inventive sets cinema has seen since The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, the most wonderfully weird event unfolds. Each scene takes place in feverish close ups against expressionist backdrops with highly stylised acting and genre-bending cinematography and editing. It is superbly wicked, deviantly morbid, and waltzingly drunk in its commentary. The stage is set for a Western-style showdown as Siam steps up to compete with Mexico. No-one can beat the Siamese when it comes to dignity, cats or twins! But the child burial customs of Mexico are just too sad for Siam as the woman mournfully cries, Now go away/ you are dead/ dont sneak in at night/ to drink from my breast... Well I guess dead children, like any other kind, have got to learn!

A twisted plot line complicates the surreal cabaret when Chester (Mark McKinney), a former lover to the baronness, turns up to compete for the money. Their shared history is one of pain and loss for the bizarre and beautiful baroness, whose leg was crushed in a car accident they had in the long remembered past. Chesters mad-drunken father Fyodor (David Fox), a cuckolded lover to the baroness, hack-sawed off both her legs in a vengeful double-vision amputation, to save the woman of his dreams from the wreckage. Now both father and son are competing, along with Roderick (Ross McMillan), the sorrow-stricken brother who carries the heart of his dead son in a jar preserved by his tears. These brothers, though born and bred in Canada, represent America and Serbia respectively! Chester is the slick pimp, cutting unethical deals and formulating broadway style spectaculars: Sadness is just happiness turned on its arse. Its all showbiz!; where Roderick is an earth shattering cellist devotional to the assassin who killed Archduke Ferdinand, thus responsible for the lives of nine million.

Jilted lovers advised by their tape worms and carnival freak-show characters flesh out this stupendously creative film. Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg, Cowards bend the knee) is an iconoclastic genius. An atmosphere evoking magi. A weirded-out psycho-sexual visionary supported by his magnificent cast and talented key crew. Its Jean Genet meets Luis Bunuel down a David Lynch laneway muralled by Otto Dix and filmed by Friedrich Murnau.


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