August 29, 2008

Review: ‘My Winnipeg’

By Michael Machosky

When filmmaker Guy Maddin was asked by Canada's Documentary Channel to make a documentary about his hometown of Winnipeg, they had to know what they were getting into.

Maddin creates nocturnal fantasias in the style of silent movies at their most visually stunning. But here, sound is added, along with a thoroughly modern palette of cinematic techniques. His films are somehow avant-garde and delightfully old-timey at the same time.

Winnipeg's city fathers probably are still choking on their orange Jell-O -- a local favorite -- from the results. The film is stunning, although hardly the stuff of tourist brochures, spinning Maddin's boyhood memories into an inescapable, wintry wonderland of sleepwalking commuters, sledding on rusty-fender-strewn Garbage Hill, secret maps of snowbound alleyways, and ghostly hockey legends still gathering for games in their doomed arena.

Darcy Fehr plays Maddin, stuck on a train, narrating his attempted escape from Winnipeg. He decides to "film his way out" by re-enacting scenes from his life. He enlists his mother -- played by elderly film noir femme fatale Ann Savage -- in re-enacting childhood traumas to understand the heinous hold that family and city still have over him.

He takes detours through the general strike of 1919 and surreal, symbolic incidents, like the buffalo stampede that destroyed the Happyland amusement park. The maps of Winnipeg and Maddin's psychic terrain don't overlap perfectly -- we're never certain what's real, what's embellished, and what's made up entirely.

Maddin excoriates his city for demolishing its landmarks, like Eaton's department store and that crucible of Canadian manhood, hockey's legendary Winnipeg Arena. The NHL gets special treatment for abandoning this staunch working-class city for luxury boxes in hockey-phobic Phoenix.

at Regent Square Theater

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