`Saddest Music' is lyrical, quirky and not at all sad


May 14, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach

The Saddest Music In the World

Unrated. Sun score: ***1/2

Watching Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music In the World may lead audiences to wonder what the heck is going on here - if they're not paying attention.

Ostensibly the story of a legless Canadian beer baroness (Isabella Rossellini) who invites countries the world over to come to Depression-era Winnipeg and stake their claim to possessing the saddest music in the world, it's really an ode to melancholy, shattered dreams, madness, movie musicals, the avant-garde and filmmaking in general. It even takes a few swipes at the current obsession with reality TV.

Saddest Music is also a showplace for actors set free, given characters inhabiting their own strange worlds and urged to follow wherever their acting muscles tell them to go. Besides Rossellini's baroness, who covets a pair of beer-filled prosthetic limbs, there's Mark McKinney as a scion of Broadway who sees the contest as a way to enhance both his reputation and his riches; Maria de Medeiros as his amnesiac girlfriend, Narcissa; Ross McMillen as his brother, who sometimes fancies himself as the Serbian assassin who started World War I (and who was once married to Narcissa); and David Fox as his father, a failed doctor of indiscriminate passions and indeterminate background.

Maddin's dense, lyrical and delightfully obtuse film (none of these adjectives should surprise longtime fans of the Canadian director) is a beautiful, whip-smart concoction that invites admiration on all levels. As shot by cinematographer Luc Montpellier, the movie looks like nothing you've ever seen - mostly in black and white, it looks as though it was shot through the fluffiest cotton, calling to mind the look of old-time silent films. And Maddin's direction is fevered in all the best ways.

The Saddest Music In the World may not be for all tastes, but maybe it should be.

- Chris Kaltenbach

Bon Voyage

Rated PG-13. Sun score: **1/2

In French with English subtitles.

Bon Voyage is one of those cast-of-thousands epics where everyone spends most of their time scanning the landscape, looking for someone they knew. And what a coincidence - almost always, they find someone!

A mix of drama and light comedy that could have used a few fewer narrative threads, the film is set in France during the early days of World War II. Isabella Adjani plays a famous French actress who discards men like used tissues; Gerard Depardieu as her latest boy toy, the French prime minister, splitting his time between saving her and preserving his country; Yvan Attal as a former lover who goes to prison out of love for her; Jean-Marc Stehle as a scientist about to unlock the deadly secrets of uranium and Virginie Ledoyen as his lovely, resourceful assistant.

Bon Voyage watches almost helplessly as these characters and others (including Peter Coyote as a journalist of questionable allegiance) flitter about the south of France, desperately trying to hold themselves together in the face of the coming German onslaught.

There could be a better movie here; the setting is certainly fraught with possibilities, and the cast couldn't be better. But writer-director Jean-Paul Rappeneau is so intent on seeing that each cast member gets enough screen time that he neglects his story.

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