For all the joys of last year’s Brand Upon the Brain!, there loomed the danger that Guy Maddin’s hysterical pastiches might become routine. For some viewers they already have, but their surface hyperventilations and half-parodic Freudian libidos can distract from the very real longing and loneliness in his work. My Winnipeg, the product of a documentary assignment for Canadian television, marks a smart step sideways by the cult filmmaker. Though displaying the same handmade crazy-quilt of black-and-white B-movie and circa-1920s avant-garde inserts, the innocently titled but healthily perverse film is grounded in the spirit and lore of Maddin’s hometown. Stranger-than-fiction tales of Winnipeg’s buried history are locked in an incestuous embrace with Maddin family myth and memoir.
The film opens with a half-dreamt rumination on/incantation about escaping this “heart of the heart of the continent,” once pictured as a gateway to the West and now bleeding its modestly maintained character and legends: a hockey team, a forgotten simulation of a Nazi invasion — the usual. Part of the ectoplasmic rush, the reimaginings of Maddin home life star 87-year-old Ann Savage, hard-bitten femme fatale of the unglam 1945 noir Detour, as Guy’s harsh mother, whose day job on a television program is the movie’s most hilarious bit.
Maddin has previously tapped autobiographical detail — and, most important, sensation — but he puts special heart into His Winnipeg, virtually busting out of his voiceover by the end. (As often in our own city, Winnipeg trashes its treasures: Maddin, whose father managed the Winnipeg Maroons, rails against the demolition of a historic arena.) He maps a psychosexual geography and, for family as well as city, keys into a kinky welter of half-understood fantasy and entrapment.