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The Saddest Music in the World

Starring Mark McKinney, Maria de Medeiros, David Fox,
Ross McMillan and Isabella Rosselini
Written by Guy Maddin and George Toles based on an original screenplay by Kazue Ishiguro
Directed by Guy Maddin

IN SHORT: A whole mess a sitcom skits as skewed by an art house eye. [Rated R for some sexuality and violent images. 99 minutes]

Winnipeg Canada being the World Capital of Sorrow (The Times of London has said so, four years running), the leg-less "Beer Queen of the Prairie" Lady Helen Port-Huntly (Isabella Rosselini) -- she made her fortune brewing the stuff -- announces a contest to determine the saddest music in the world, with a $25,000 prize going to the winner. The year is 1933, so that's a whopping amount of money in a story that plays out like a series of Saturday Night Live-type sitcom sketches -- think of any recurring character -- stapled together to come up with a movie length product.

Contestants come from all over the world -- don't ask how they can afford to travel -- and include, from America, the Broadway impresario Chester Hunt (Mark McKinney), and his wife Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros). Canadian war veteran Fyodor (David Fox) and, bearing the intense guilt of the nation of Serbia on his shoulders, the famed cellist Gavrillo the Great (Ross McMillan) aka Roderick Hunt, long lost brother of Chester, husband of Narcissa and son of Fyodor!

Trust us. It only sounds complicated.

Shot through a vaseline coated lens, with all the color removed, yields a grainy looking pseudo 1930-ish image. Then director Guy Maddin makes the arbitrary decision to switch to color -- it happens enough times that the critical mind starts tracking to figure out what the conceit is. Initially, it appeared that the switch to color coincided with memory driven flashbacks, until we hit the end of the film at which point Maddin tosses that observation out the proverbial critical window. The decision is a distraction. It is pure film student driven cleverness and does nothing but detract from an otherwise funny, and definitely off-kilter, film.

That's a back-handed compliment, for sure, but it fits this film just fine.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Saddest Music in the World, he would have paid . . .


The Saddest Music in the World falls too close to the television world of sit-comedy to merit more than a rental recommendation. It doesn't help that the shot-through-vaseline look gets very tiresome after about two scenes.

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