Cinephiles know the Winnipeg-based Maddin (Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs) as a unique, independent spirit who makes modern movies with exquisitely anachronistic techniques: fake degraded stock, blue and yellow tints, declamatory acting styles and lighting so soft-focus, Garbo could have bathed in it. The Saddest Music in the World, based on a script by Kazuo Ishiguro (author of The Remains of the Day), is Maddin's first superproduction. It boasts a $2.5 million budget and a few actors you may have heard of: Rossellini, Euro-Kewpie Maria de Medeiros and Mark McKinney from The Kids in the Hall.
The approach, though, is as weird as ever. From the talking tapeworm at the beginning to the Eskimo production number at the end, Saddest Music is the most enthralling 1933 musical made in 2003. In a movie age when there's hardly a garde, let alone an avant-garde, Maddin proves there are many languages to cinema, including the dead one of antique film. And in that language, he sings, he soars.