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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The ultimate meaning of life is to embrace that which compels you to act in spite of fear.

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Thoughts on My Winnipeg

Review: My Winnipeg

When I selected Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg from the Movies list on The Movie Network, I fully expected to get twenty minutes into it before pressing stop.

“This is going to be all weird and inaccessible,” I mumbled to myself, remote control in hand. I’d read and heard that Maddin’s work is the epitome of self-indulgence, at times visually brilliant, but mostly the strange labour of some lost, mad child in grown man’s body. Be that as it may, I found myself utterly enthralled. It was anything but inaccessible. What a wonderful invitation to the mind of this peerless filmmaker and his conflicted relationship with his home city, Winnipeg.

Now, many of us have complex relationships with the places where we live or have lived. I can tell you how I feel about a number of places and how I’ve imagined them on quiet, cold, winter nights. I’ve never lived in Winnipeg but I have visited it three times, always in summer, and I find this eastern gateway to the Prairies inscrutably fascinating. Having experienced My Winnipeg, I feel as though I’ve had a long psychic conversation with a local lad to see if his dreams of his home speak to my first visceral impressions of the city and how its winters must feel.

How many of us have found ourselves immobilized by the sight of a frosty halo around a street light during a snow storm, and then found ourselves wondering about our own place in this country? Has anyone has really felt at home here, transplanted in this new ancient land? To be sure, My Winnipeg has plenty of Canadiana in it. Maddin takes us to hockey rinks, an Old Eaton’s building, and to the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, this film is not only for Canadians. Who knows where any of our family trees really started on this planet? We all wander, haunted by the desire to go backwards and forwards in time, to penetrate. The answer may lie in “The Forks,” the current beneath the convergence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

What journey it is to enter the world of how Maddin sees his home, not through a plodding, linear narrative, but by running through the museum of his mind, by sensing his longing and his urge to escape, which in My Winnipeg is portrayed in an eerie black and white phantasmagoria of past images and re-enactments of childhood experiences, of trips down the seedy back laneways inhabited by a darker flipside Winnipeg, of frozen dead horses and Cree living on urban rooftops, of dashed hopes and lost sleepwalkers .

I won’t mention specific claims Maddin makes about the city or his family, some of which I suspect are made-up or distorted, though I’m not sure. But it doesn’t matter. This is a film about emotional truths, not literal ones. Besides, their mention outside the context of Maddin’s dream-like state would seem absurd, meaningless, or merely banal.

One Los Angeles reviewer suggested that only a Canadian filmmaker could have made such a movie. If so, then Maddin has given the world a real treasure, because this is a transcendent film. My Winnipeg is everyone’s home.

Hit play.