The Fast Forward Revue

Film Review: My Winnipeg by Sempé
July 3, 2008, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Author: E. Sempé, Cinema | Tags: , , , ,


Fast Forward Revue Rating: FFFF  (4 out of 5)

When you think that Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg all started out as an agreement with The Documentary Channel to make a film about Maddin’s hometown, you can’t help but let out a little laugh. The director himself calls the final product a “docu-fantasia” – mixing personal history and anecdote with just plain fiction. This being said, the film demonstrates a certain reverence for fact and history, even though the actual “realities” of the city’s records and archives may be contorted and stretched by the fabric of child-Madden memory. The line between imagination and fact is definitely blurry, but this is what makes the film so intriguing.

Take, for example, the tale of the frozen horse heads. Madden’s own voice (which narrates the entire film) speaks with wonder, humour and a subtle sadness as he weaves his story of that one winter long ago, when the fire at the race tracks drove a dozen horses into the icy river. In their desperate struggle to survive, they would be frozen alive while trying to swim through it. – And all that remained, of course, for that entire winter, were the rock-solid heads of the horses, poking out of the frozen river. The story is absurd to say the least, but it captures the beauty and lack of self-consciousness of a childhood reverie, which this film seems to have mastered.

My Winnipeg is quite literally a trip – a trip through the city’s history, and through the life of the narrator, as is dramatized by recurring scenes of the latter tumbling drowsily inside a train heading out of the city. These scenes are accompanied by a constant reminder that our narrator is trying desperately to leave this city where he’s spent his entire life. It’s about struggling with escape, and about suppressing nostalgia. Beautifully shot in grainy black and white, these moments are poignant reminders to all of us that the space in which we live will always affect us in ways we can barely explain or comprehend. In essence, My Winnipeg is the closest we can get to expressing and understanding this archetypal truth. The film luxuriates in nostalgia – the kind of nostalgia you feel for times you never lived through. And it is what makes My Winnipeg a success. You leave the theatre satisfied, silent, laughing, and slightly teary-eyed – and utterly unable to peel all that imagery from your consciousness. Although it may sometimes emanate the ambiance of a college film class project, with its direct and experimental approach, it is impossible not to succumb to its subtle mastery and ability to grip you to the very end.

My Winnipeg is certainly not your traditional documentary, but as an artwork, the piece exemplifies how far the imagination can go, and how deep into ourselves it can take us.


Watch the official trailer, or check for local screenings at a theatre near you.


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