The Saddest Music in the World

A music contest to see which country has the most depressing music is at the heart of The Saddest Music in the World, a very weird movie. It is a loving send-up of old films from the 1930s, and looks and sounds the part. However, Director Guy Maddin (Cowards Bend the Knee, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary), who co-wrote the screenplay with George Toles (The Cock Crew, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs), based on a story by Kazuo Ishiguro, purposefully set out to make their film as bizarre as possible, leaving it a little too esoteric for most people, and sometimes difficult to sit through. The setting is Winnipeg, Canada, and the Great Depression is in full swing.

Beer baroness Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini, Roger Dodger, Empire) knows that when people are sad, they will drink more beer. Ever the astute businesswoman, she concocts the contest, with a $25,000 prize, as a huge marketing ploy. It attracts contestants from all over the world, who will square off, tournament style, and the winner of each round gets to jump on a huge slide that ends in a huge vat of beer. A loud buzzer separates each round, and Port-Huntley, a double-amputee, has final say on who wins. Among the contestants are three men, all related to each other, representing different countries, and full of secrets. Chester Kent (Mark McKinney, Toothpaste, The Ladies Man) is here on behalf of the United States. He failed as a Broadway producer, but schemes to buy his way to the top here. He once had a relationship with Port-Huntley, as did his father Fyodor (David Fox, The Charnel House, 2001: A Space Travesty), who represents Canada, and, as a flashback tells, was partially responsible for her amputation. Fyodor's other son Roderick (Ross McMillan, Barbara James, The Hoyden) enters the contest in disguise for Serbia. He is still mourning the disappearance of his wife.

Kent wants to use Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros, My Life Without Me, Single Again), a lovely young woman who has amnesia, to help him win the contest. Fyodor, in his guilt, built a pair of glass legs for Port-Huntley that she fills with beer. All the subplots weave together in a zany, melodramatic fashion which is sometimes amusing and sometimes frustrating because of its inanity. The staging of the contest is hilarious, but the humor wears out pretty quickly. Scottish bagpipers, Mexican mariachis, and Fyodor on a knocked-over piano all square off against one another as two people provide the play-by-play. Otherwise, The Saddest Music in the World is extremely uneven. One's appreciation of it will most likely correlate with one's knowledge and appreciation of old movies.

The film itself simply looks wonderful. Maddin uses washed out colors, black-and-white, and obviously fake sets to recreate what genuinely look like an old film taken out of some vault. He adds scratches and other blemishes to artificially age the movie. The characters act and move like old film characters, which typically means that everything is exaggerated. McKinney speaks with a quick clip, and de Medieros is absolutely adorable. This is a wildly original movie coming from a director with a unique voice. The one negative aspect is that Maddin's voice may be a little too unique.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 39 minutes, Not Rated but would probably be a PG or PG-13.

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