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Saddest Music in the World, The

Director: Guy Maddin

Canada| 2003. Black and White/Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 100 mins.


Based on a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day), then adapted by Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, this unforgettably warped movie is a work of genius. It all kicks off when beer mogul Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) declares that her company is hosting a contest in Winnipeg— ‘chosen by the London Times as the world-wide capital of sorrow’—to find the world’s saddest music. It’s 1933 and the grand prize is enormous, so entrants arrive from all over the world, including three members of the Kent family, who all draw their grief from the death of their wife/mother: War veteran father Fyodor (David Fox) is representing Canada; Broadway producer’s son Chester (Mark McKinney) represents America with his girlfriend (Maria de Medeiros), who gets advice from her tapeworm; and cellist Roderick (Ross McMillan) represents his adopted country of Serbia, where his son died and his wife went missing. All have strange links to the literally legless Lady Port-Huntley, who stands to make a fortune: ‘If you’re sad and like beer, I’m your lady!’
This intriguing story is told in Maddin’s inimitable style, with extremely grainy monochrome footage, sometimes handtinted or colour-washed. There are constant visual gimmicks, goofy back projection, B-movie sets and seriously camp performances. But he also manages to get to the heart of his characters, so if you can accept the bizarre approach, the twisted melodrama is surprisingly compelling and emotional. The film works on so many levels that it’s hard to count them all. And if you’re willing to enter its universe, it’s absolutely wonderful.

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