Wednesday, December 01, 2004

SEE: The Saddest Music In The World (2003)

When a movie is set in Winnipeg, Canada, right away you know it's going to very funny. Or starkly depressing. In this case, it's the former.

A beer baroness, played by Isabella Rossellini, decides to throw an international music competition. She offers a $25,000 grand prize to the country that can create the world's saddest music. Since it's set during the Great Depression and being desperate times, people descend upon bleak Winnipeg to vie for the prize money.

This is obviously a satirical movie. It mainly pokes fun at Canadians and Americans. I love it how Canadians (in this case, director Guy Maddin, and a troupe of Canadian actors) can laugh at themselves. You see a lot of that infamous Canadian deadpan humour in this flick, which, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed. This film satirizes lots of other silly things we do as society. For example, one thing this movie draws upon is whenever a third world country was going through some sort of crisis, especially during the 1980's, you had rock and roll musicians doing some big benefit song to raise awareness for the plight of ethnic peoples, a fine example being "We Are The World." Also, the original script was partly inspired by how eastern European countries sort of compete for the position of being the one who suffered the most tragedy. Furthermore, this film makes a jab at big business colluding with the arts, i.e. capitalism and art in bed together.

Not only is the film's social commentary interesting but one must also mention its technical specs. Visually, this is the most unique film I've seen. Most of it is in this grainy black and white film that is blurred and soft at the edges. It feels like you're watching one of those primitive talkies due to the fact that the film speeds up and slows down throughout the movie. The whole thing was shot in 16 mm and Super 8. So you can imagine, this is a very artsy-fartsy avant-garde film. The editing is superb, though it can be a bit frantic as one montage quickly follows another, giving this movie a frenetic pace. Also, the camera was handheld quite often, and a few of the actors filmed themselves while holding the camera.

This is a very funny movie for those who have a sense of humour and aren't easily offended by satire. It's hilarious to see how the countries, two by two, duke it out on stage as they perform the saddest music they can play. You have Scottish bagpipers going against a Serbian cellist, a Mexican mariachi band versus a Siamese flautist, among the many competitors. Canada loses the first round to West Africa (I just love how Canadians humourously depict themselves). The American entry is quite a reflection of how the U.S. doesn't have its proper, collective "American culture," but that it's just one big melting pot. American culture is just a product of other ethnic cultures that have meshed together.

I will end with my favorite quote from this film, spoken by Isabella Rossellini's character: "If you're sad and like beer, then I'm your lady."

::4 stars::