The Saddest Music in the World

Poster for The Saddest Music in the World

Autumn 2004 Edge series

Sunday, October 31, 2004 at 7:00pm

Empire Theatres, New Minas, NS

Directed by


Rated NR · 1h 30m

Winnipeg native Guy Maddin, the visionary Canadian director behind such wonderful films as Dracula: Tales From a Virgin’s Diary, Careful and The Heart of the World, directs a cast of international stars in his latest genre-bending work, The Saddest Music in the World.

Set during the Great Depression in Winnipeg (in Maddin’s view “the most depressing city in the world”), the film follows beer baroness Lady Port-Huntly (Isabella Rossellini, Blue Velvet), a woman who is searching for a suitable pair of prosthetic legs. She announces a worldwide contest to find musicians to play the saddest music in the world – with the chance to win $25,000 and to prove which country is the saddest place in the world. Various ensembles from international destinations flock to Winnipeg during the cold, endless winter to compete for the prize, while the world listens in on the radio. Guy Maddin sees The Saddest Music in the World – based on the screenplay of Booker Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) – as “…a chance for me to explore self-pity in its most extreme and exotic species.” Joining Lady Port-Huntly is a motley crew of characters. Narcissi (Maria de Medeiros, Pulp Fiction) is a woman who has forgotten that her son has died. Mark McKinney (Falling Angels) plays Chester, a Canadian who is representing America in the contest and who desperately wants to beat his older brother, who represents Serbia and father, who represents Canada.

Ultimately, the film is about the tendency of people to make their sadness and suffering into a theatrical event, and like all Maddin films,the theatrical nature of cinema is brought front and centre. The handcrafted set is an explosion of colour (while most of the film is black and white, occasional bursts of colour highlight certain scenes), sound and light – this is the Winnipeg of Maddin’s imagining: a Grimm place, half buried in snow and populated by crosses, looking simultaneously like the set of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and a drawing by Dr. Seuss.

Maddin, the youngest filmmaker ever to win the prestigious Telluride Lifetime Achievement Award (joining such notable contemporaries as Clint Eastwood, Pedro Almodóvar, Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola), once again captures the hearts and minds of his audience with the tragic and comic fable The Saddest Music in the World, an Official Selection of the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival.