This Song is True, This Song is You: The Saddest Music In the World (2003)

I love moments of cinematic perfection, which is precisely what Guy Maddin delivers with his experimental musical The Saddest Music in the World.  A frenzied mash-up of silent era film making techniques, ambient music and self aware over the top acting this film delivers an idea directly from the mind of an auteur.   It is a movie of moments collected into a generalized idea that questions what one must experience to truly feel sad.  Through an unconventional use of the melodramatic Maddin offers a psychological escape from sadness, while simultaneously forcing viewers to acknowledge the truly degrading existences of those oppressed.  In essence, the film is a formulaic guilt trip masterfully embedded in a black comedy.  The film exudes brilliance while also pouring over with the film makers own personal tragedies, particularly those of loss and existential malaise.
The movie's plot is as abnormal as its filming style.  Existing primarily as a dialogue on depression the film follows beer baroness Lady Helen Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) as she creates a global competition to find the sole song that could be described as the saddest music in the world.  This act is done in the midst of the Great Depression and is solely done for the baroness's own financial gain.  However, this portion of the story serves as an arch to cover an actual narrative of a family's falling out.  A Canadian father Fyodor Kent (David Fox) holds a undying infatuation for the baroness, despite losing her to his "American Song" Chester Kent (Mark McKinnley) after a fatal accident which caused the baroness to lose her legs.  However, this triangle is made all the more problematic by another "Serbian" brother Roderick (Ross McMillan) who seeks out his wife to play her a song in honor of their lost child, only to discover that his wife Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros) is actually with Chester.  The feud is hectic, heartbreaking and at times violent ending with all three realizing levels of despair they thought impossible, particularly Chester who is shown accepting sadness, despite claiming to be immune to such emotions.  Even the conniving baroness experiences loss when she realizes that no form of prosthetic, including the beer that she literally stands on, can serve as a mental replication to her physical loss.

The social commentary with the film is vast and varied covering categories from psychological issues of pain to theoretical issues of what persons are justified in their claims of sadness.   The American music team relies heavily on their roots of exploitation, particularly in regards to African-Americans and Native Americans, yet the individuals singing the songs are all white creating a lingering divide between sadness and guilt, which emerges frequently in the film.  Similarly, it questions the psychological aspects of warfare, using The Great War as its point of reference.  It reminds viewers that millions of individuals die as a result of warfare, yet little is made of the suffering of the family and friends left behind.  It also acknowledges physical suffering in the way of the baroness who is a cripple and Roderick who is victim to various physical and psychological disorders.  Finally, it deals with the evolution of suffering through the character of Chester a person who begins by claiming such stoicism that he lacked an ability to cry at his own mothers' funeral.  Yet, as the story progresses and Chester is made to realize his own loneliness and bitterness it is him who truly, and irreversibly, sings the saddest song in the world.

I am very fond of this film and am considering making room for it on my mental top ten list.  It is black comedy done right, and even uses a former Kids in the Hall member in its cast.  Simply put it is how a film should be made and a copy is a must for any burgeoning cinephile.

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