MADNESS FOR SADNESS
I recently checked out Guy Maddin, a filmmaker whom an acquaintance intriguingly described as the Canadian David Lynch. From his 2003 film “The Saddest Music in the World,” David Lynch indeed popped into my head. This is a weird movie, filmed in great granny’s grainy black-and-white. Sometimes it’s blurry, out of focus. Sometimes even the aperture is limited. So put away the 3D glasses. The visuals might be anti-high-def, but at least the movie seems deft in its own dimension of lunacy.
Its silly pouty premise is set during The Great Depression. Winnipeg has been pegged as the sorrow capital of the world. To commemorate the “honor,” beer baroness Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) wants to hold a musical contest. For a grand prize of $25,000, she’s inviting countries to compete for the “saddest music in the world.” Three of the participants belong in the same family. And two of these three have a complicated and severed past with Lady P.
Fyodor Kent (David Fox), the father, represents Canada. On the stage, he knocks down the piano, because, you know, his song is dedicated to fallen heroes. His son, competing for USA, is Chester Kent (Mark McKinney), a Broadway producer donning a slimy and deceitful mustache. He thinks he’ll win it all; his show business pizazz coupled with downer songs could be just the ticket. And finally, from Serbia, there’s the cellist son, Roderick. Unlike his smiley brother, Roderick is full-on morose. The man is so so sad, it’s funny. Maybe not funny ha-ha. More like it’s funny he shares the same fashion sense as Harry Potter’s Professor Snape.
Despite the title, this movie is, from what I can tell, a comedy. It reels out its own eccentricity, laughing, winking, and elbowing the audience on the chest as if it’s saying, “It’s funny, right? Brilliantly wild, right? Riiight? Riiiight?” Well, uh – ahem! – uhmmm …
Here’s the thing. I did like it, but my appreciation for the movie is limited and indirect. I hardly responded to it right away. I found the visuals distracting, the humor initially inaccessible, and the characters sometimes gratingly outlandish. Now those are three strikes already. However, with patience and perseverance, I actually got into it. I thought a few scenes, especially the ones involving the competition, have a haunting yet quirky quality. I wish it could have been more consistent in that tone. The movie walks a fine line between funny and ghastly. Unfortunately, its walk is as tipsy as its characters. But there is no denying that “The Saddest Music of the World” is strikingly original and Guy Maddin is a talented filmmaker. I just have reservations recommending it to people. Hey, you never know. You might actually enjoy it, but you won’t blame me if you don’t like it, right? Riiight? Riiight?
Isabella Rossellini, Mark McKinney, Maria de Medeiros, David Fox, and Ross McMillan
Based on the original screenplay by
Rated R for some sexuality and violent images