First and foremost, you must understand this: Guy Maddin makes very weird movies. In fact, he is a genuine underground filmmaker, so it's impressive that this, his latest feature, has not only gotten a US theatrical release, but is even playing on two screens at LA megamall the Beverly Center. (Though it must be said, the Cineplex Beverly Center, built at the nadir of the "shoebox-sized multiplex" trend of the '80s, has fallen on hard times, and will play just about anything.)
Where was I? Ah, yes. Imagine watching a recently-unearthed movie from the early sound era, made in some mythical country between Germany and Russia that called itself "Canada", and you'll have some idea of what Guy Maddin's films are like. His latest, The Saddest Music in the World, takes place in 1932 Winnipeg, where legless(!) beer mogul Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini, having the time of her life) decides to increase sales of her product by sponsoring a contest in which, as the title suggests, musical groups from all over the world compete to see who can play the saddest song.
This serves as a backdrop to another of Maddin's insane melodramas, sort of a love pentangle between Lady Port-Huntley, her caddish former lover from America, his lovelorn father, estranged brother, and amnesiac girlfriend (Maria de Medeiros), who may be his brother's long-lost wife. The story, as usual, plays second fiddle to Maddin's style: grainy, tinted film, old-fashioned visual effects, tinny orchestral music, and high-camp acting.
Maddin's films aren't for everyone. In fact, I'm amazed he keeps getting the money to make them. But despite the ultimate fluffiness of his efforts (with titles like Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and Sissy Boy Slap Party, you can't take his work entirely seriously), I'm one of his small contingent of fans, and I recommend the silly, strange Saddest Music to any adventurous moviegoer out there. See it at least for Rossellini, who, as she dances giddily on a pair of glass legs filled with beer, brings down the house.