The Saddest Music In The World (15)

Written and Directed by Guy Maddin
Showing at FACT from 4th - 10th June 2004

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Expanding on an idea by The Remains Of The Day author Kazuo Ishiguro, maverick Canadian director Maddin has created a weird and wonderful dreamscape of a film where craziness and melancholy are never far away.

This ‘sort-of musical’ is set in an early 1930s world mired in the depths of the Great Depression. Lonely beer baroness Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) is tortured by guilt that she is doing so well out of the crisis around her but isn’t averse to cheap advertising. Shrewdly, she puts up a $25,000 reward to the musician who can compose the saddest music in the world, and competitors come from around the world to battle it out in a bizarre kind of Eurovision on Prozac.

Amongst the contenders are many faces from the literally legless heroine’s past, including the calculating Chester (Mark McKinney) and spurned lover Fyodor (David Fox). Ross McMillan is brilliant as the oh-so-sensitive Roderick who – in mourning for his dead son and missing wife - delivers a beautiful cello dirge. As time goes on, the line between tragedy and bleak comedy become ever more blurred, leaving the viewer unsure of whether to laugh, cry or both.

Shot for the most part in gloriously grainy black and white, this picture should offer more for fans of the golden age of cinema than those less versed in the movie-making of that era. Although substance is partly sacrificed at the altar of style, if you’re sad and you like music then this is your film.