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Movie Review: Guy Maddin Is Never Predictable


When you watch a lot of movies, you really start to value genuine surprise. I’m not talking about crazy twist endings, although those can be fun. I mean when you can truly say you have no idea what a movie is going to do next. It’s a rare thrill, when you can usually predict something in a movie, even if it’s just what the next shot will look like.


And then there’s Guy Maddin. My first experience with Maddin was with his documentary My Winnipeg, which he was commissioned to make in 2007 by his Canadian hometown. I realized something was up somewhere around the time he told the story about the horses who stampeded into the rapidly freezing river and got stuck, with only their heads poking out of the ice, for the rest of the winter. Or maybe it was when he described how Winnipeg law requires homeowners to let sleepwalkers into their houses until they wake up. Winnipeg is the sleepwalking capital of the world, after all.


If there’s one thing you’re pretty sure you can expect from Maddin, it’s that he usually—though not always—uses very old filmmaking techniques. His movies often seem like silent films that aren’t silent, with intertitles, circular irises, and melodramatic or overly wooden acting. He’ll purposely smudge the lens or damage the film. And he is very funny. His 1992 movie Careful is about a mountain town that must remain completely silent, lest any slight noise triggers an avalanche. The Green Fog is a remake of Hitchcock’s Vertigo created entirely from clips of other movies set in San Francisco. These don’t sound funny? Maddin’s movies must be seen, they cannot be described.


You simply can’t predict even the next second of Maddin’s films. Now, it’s hardly chaos, he knows what he’s doing. And it’s also not confusing—he’s not David Lynch, although you’ll certainly need to pay attention. But for the sheer delight of true surprise, there is nothing—nothing—like a movie by Guy Maddin.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.