Part documentary, part autobiography, part psychotherapy, Maddin’s smooth narration and pithy asides take us in his inimitable style on a journey through what he dubs “the coldest city in North America”. The film is dreamlike, as we sleepwalk along with the narrator through stock imagery of bison stampeding, stark shots of wintry nights and street after street of banal architecture. This is a love story, warts and all, and the stories told are just weird and unbelievable enough to be true. There is simply a beautiful synergy between his stylistic schtick and the story of escape and loss that he’s telling, with such a mash of humour and bittersweetness that it’s hard not to fall in love with this mess of a hometown.
Talk of hidden streets and hidden streams, coupled with a sense of mysticism and awe that literally situates “Winterpeg” as the center of the continent (and, by extension, the center of the world). I’ve never been to Winnipeg, and based on this film, I don’t think I ever need to – there’s no way that the truth of the city can live up to this elegy to a lost town, it’s impossible for the run down streets and destroyed landmarks to take on in person the mythic significance that the film presents.
In Maddin’s hands, out-of-place bridges dream, trains circle endlessly, and a confluence of rivers takes on vaginal import. A haunting scene with dead horses trapped in ice is breathtaking. A sequence plays out as a silent film with beautiful score, a dance to a seance, giving a taste of his other works before the narration returns. It’s all so great.
My Winnipeg gives us the idea of a city, an idea far more beautiful and insane than any city could ever be, and, luckily for the Manitoba town, that should be enough.