Guy Maddin has been making semi-autobiographical films for his whole career, in that he's been telling stories informed by the old movies and forgotten folktales he soaked up over decades of lying on his Winnipeg couch in unrepentant sloth. In recent years—in odd, plotless exercises like Brand Upon The Brain! and Cowards Bend The Knee—Maddin has started to drop the "semi" and has been more directly referencing his own life. Now, in the bizarre and singularly delightful My Winnipeg, Maddin offers a docu-history of his hometown, entangled with memories of his childhood. Or so he claims. Unless Winnipeggers are really allowed by civic law to carry the keys to all their old homes, some facts in My Winnipeg have probably been fudged.
And yet, even though much of My Winnipeg is overtly ludicrous—from the corrupt judging of male beauty pageants in The Hudson's Bay Company's "Paddle Room" to Maddin's memories of a locally produced TV series about an overly sensitive man who spends every episode out on a ledge, threatening to kill himself—the movie still touches on real feelings of loss and regret. Utilizing a mix of stock footage, home movies, puppetry, and rear-projection-aided reenactments, Maddin reflects on the stores that have closed, the hockey teams that have left town, and the historical conflicts that have been forgotten. Maddin's narration, halfway between noir bravado and Beat poetry, gives the same weight to fantastical conjecture about nude romps in the halls of government and to his memories of growing up above his family's beauty parlor, smelling of "female vanity and desperation."
Maddin's funniest and most poignant idea has him hiring actors to recreate scenes from his childhood, such as the daily, Sisyphean ordeal of straightening the rug in the front hallway. My Winnipeg is full of striking visual metaphors, as Maddin compares a confluence of rivers to his mother's crotch, and points out how piled-high snowdrifts lead Winnipeg's perpetually sleepy citizens through an inescapable maze. But nothing beats the shot of Maddin's fake family lounging around a reconstruction of his old living room, leaning casually against the exhumed corpse of his father. Maddin talks at length about Winnipeg's hidden layers, but what makes My Winnipeg perhaps his best film to date is that so much of it is right out in the open.