Directed by Guy Maddin (2003) Starring: Mark McKinney, Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros, David Fox, Ross McMillan
In Winnipeg during the Great Depression, Beer Baroness Lady Helen Port-Huntley (Rossellini) has come up with an idea to raise sales: Hold a contest to find the saddest music in the world so that it can be used to further depress the nations so that they will turn to drink.
Chester Kent (McKinney), a cheerful American conman has decided to enter this contest, even though he’s never been sad in his life. He is joined by Narcissa (de Medeiros) a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac with memory problems. Kent’s family turns up, his father a former lover of Port-Huntley and his brother, a musical genius representing his adopted country of Serbia.
The conceit is a competition between nations, with contests happening like a mournful edition of Battle of the Bands. Chester Kent uses a concept of schmaltz in order to breeze through the rounds, while his father uses Canadian patriotism and his brother, Rodrick (alias Gavrillo the Great) uses the personal sorrow of losing his wife and child.
At times absurd– winning contestants get to slide into a pool full of beer, Lady Port-Huntley gets beer-filled glass legs– The Saddest Music in the World borrows its aesthetic from 1930s musicals, with most of the film in blurry black and white. Certain shots were made from Super 8 footage that Maddin had given to the cast and crew, creating frenzy hand-held camera scenes that add to the energy. The best part of the soundtrack relies on different variations of “The Song is You,” probably best seen here:
Over all, a really fun, slightly surreal film that oozes melodrama and musical shenanigans.