26 June 2008

My Winnipeg

Directed by: Guy Maddin
Written by: Guy Maddin & George Toles
Full credits from IMDb

Grade: B+

Taken together, My Winnipeg’s evocative imagery—from whited-out backlanes to writhing horse heads poking out of a frozen lake—begins to sketch, from the inside out, a portrait of the city that lends the film its name. But it stops short of finishing that sketch. Romantic, bitter and nightmarishly nostalgic, My Winnipeg is a digressive, madly associative and deeply idiosyncratic profile of a place only as it relates to the individual. The title’s possessive pronoun is essential; My Winnipeg is a travelogue only of the director’s subconscious.

Using the film as a means to work through his personal neuroses, Maddin goes so far as to sublet his boyhood home and hire actors to reenact traumatic moments from his childhood (including the straightening of a long rug). Winnipeg, against this psychological backdrop, is not so much a place as a state of mind, a bundled representation of guilt, fear, loneliness, etc. “I need to get out of here,” he says in the film’s nearly endless narration (which often sounds Lynchian, like a blend of Log Lady introductions and Dune voiceovers). “What if I film my way out of here?”

Admitting its artifice from the first frame through the shot of a clapboard, the film, like the bulk of Maddin’s oeuvre, visually plays out as silent movie pastiche—in black and white, overexposed and in soft focus, with intertitles and pre-Stanislavsky acting styles. My Winnipeg makes no pretense to offer an objective view of Maddin’s biography or the Manitoba capital. Instead, in the director’s mind (and therefore his film), Winnipeg is a persistently snowy town where, at night, sleepwalking citizens, obscured silhouettes, crowd the streets. Each carries the keys to their former address (thanks to civic law, Maddin says) so that, like the director in this film, they can revisit their pasts, at any time, in a hypnagogic haze. This is film as sleepwalking fever dream—the director, a haunting ghost.

A wildly inaccurate profile of a place (are the streets really named after prostitutes?), the film presents cinema not as a means to understand the world but to understand the self—film as Freudian self-analysis. For his conspicuous mother complex, I suspect Maddin is Jewish, though his issues extend beyond the Oedipal; for him, the city and his mother converge as mystical forces responsible for his existence. He repeatedly compares, through editing, the city’s forking rivers to a vagina, or “the lap”. “Wooly, furry, frosty lap,” Maddin says of Winnipeg. “The heart of the heart of the continent.” (In the film, Maddin reveals the writing chops he displays every month as Film Comment’s most eccentric critic—eg., of January in Winnipeg: “the condoms come off—this is the bareback month.”)

The film’s funniest moments grow out of Maddin’s hang-ups with his mother, but it pushes further; My Winnipeg moves on, delving into the city and all its phantoms. “The backgrounds in photos,” the director says, “become more important than the people in them.” Maddin visits the city’s backlanes and explores its history—its razed department store, its hockey rink under the wrecking ball—as it offers an insight into his self. Mon Winnipeg ou Winnipeg, C’est Moi? In the end, Maddin mishmashes the city, the self and the family together so thoroughly that they become inseparable. The city becomes more than a city; it grows into metaphor: for the director, deeply secreted but ultimately accessible through filmmaking, and for cinema itself—dreamy, inescapable and so young, yet so ancient.

Watch the trailer:

No comments: