This week I decided to watch an essential Winnipeg film: Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg. I had seen some of Maddin’s films before but not his most famous. This won’t be a review exactly, just some of my thoughts on the film and some memorable screen caps. But first an introduction:
My Winnipeg is about Guy Maddin exploring the history of his hometown, Winnipeg, including his personal history. He tells stories about events and landmarks with a sense of love/hate nostalgia, and hires actors to play his family in his childhood home. Through this reinactment and exploration he hopes to escape Winnipeg for good.
A few things I really liked about the film:
- The narration – It added a lot to make this film the semi-documentary experimental dream that it is. I read that Maddin described it as “docu-fantasia”. It gives the viewer something to follow and communicates tone through Maddin’s elaborate and firm descriptions.
- The reenactment – Getting a bunch of actors to play your family, several of whom are dead, and have them act out awkward memories is so messed up. I love it. The dynamics are very interesting. The film begins with Guy Maddin’s voice directing Ann Savage, who plays Maddin’s mother but unlike the other actors is treated as his real mother in the film. Considering his mother’s powerful hold on him, it’s a strange meta twist. Below, Maddin compares The Forks to his mothers lap, and below that the family gathers to watch the fictional show Ledge Man.
- The taboos – They’re part of what makes Maddin’s narration so great, from his childhood obsession with Russian hockey player Anatoli Firsov to nuns protecting SMAGs (St. Mary’s Academy Girls) from perverts (both below). A stand out example is his mother confronting his sister about a sexual encounter after hitting a deer on the highway (below). It just makes me laugh, sometimes uncomfortably, and adds quirky nature of the film.
- The titles – Sometimes Maddin will use titles as title cards, like in silent films, bringing out his nostalgic style. However, with the narration in My Winnipeg, the titles are used more like flashes to create subconscious impressions. They’ll pop up more as the tension ramps up, and it’s quick effective and fun.
- The animation – Sometimes when telling historical stories, there will be short silhouette animations. The animation style is consistent with Maddin’s nostalgic style and they change it up from photographs and video snippets.
- The Winnipegness – This almost goes without saying, but as a Winnipegger I like seeing my city in the film. The Forks, the old ads downtown, the old hockey arena, the familiar snowy streets. Even if you don’t identify with Maddin’s personal experiences, many of his assessments of Winnipeg perk up our ears.
A few things I wasn’t sure what to make of:
- The sleepiness – Maddin calls Winnipeggers sleepwalkers, and throughout the film cuts to him in a train car struggling to stay awake so he can escape Winnipeg. I like how it’s reoccurring and creates a sense of consistency and reason for this nostalgic journey. That being said, it made me sleepy! Sometimes, Maddin’s voice is so soothing and the imagery with the snow and silhouettes is so dreamy that I found my eyelids dropping. However, perhaps that’s the intention: Winnipegger viewers must struggle to stay awake and finish the film!
- The fiction vs. fact – Not all the stories Maddin tells are true, hence the film’s tagline: the truth is relative. This plays off the fact vs. fiction and the focus on Maddin’s relatives, particularly his mother. I like the sense of subjectivity it adds to the film – after all, this is Maddin’s Winnipeg – but it also creates an unreliable narrator that kind of makes me take the film less seriously. However, it also forces the viewer to confront their own lack of knowledge of Winnipeg, because they can’t entirely tell the fact from fiction. For example. did a bunch of horses really freeze one winter? Probably not, but seems like something that could happen…
- The uncertain escape – SPOILER AHEAD. By the end of the film, it’s somewhat unclear whether Maddin has been able to truly escape Winnipeg. He dreams up Citizen Girl to restore Winnipeg in his absence, but this indicates he has fallen asleep and therefore failed to escape. The narration hypothesizes what Citizen Girl would do, which is why she is a dream. The end also sort of trails off with Maddin taking one last look at his family and home, and focussing on lying on couches, so it certainly sounds like he’s dozing off.
Anyway, highly recommend watching My Winnipeg. Let me know if you can get through it without dozing off a bit! Thanks for reading, like, comment, share, follow, and all that jazz.