Most of Guy Maddin's recent films have been at least modestly self-referential. There are characters named Guy and Sis and Mother. There's Winnipeg. (Nobody makes films set in Winnipeg unless he is a Winnipegger.) There's the overlay of Oedipal drama. (Except for those who can imagine motherlust and patricide in their own childhood narratives, no one puts stock in Freud anymore.) But Maddin has never tipped quite so far in the direction of autobiography as he has with My Winnipeg, and the effect is unexpectedly charming. Finally, a movie that's actually about the inside of Guy Maddin's perverse little brain! There's no longer any need to be coy.
My Winnipeg is framed by the narrator—named Guy (Darcy Fehr), naturally—as a recitation of the history of a city, a sort of emotional exorcism conducted before leaving the place behind. But this history is so idiosyncratic and personal that you're soon convinced that Guy can never leave his hometown—assuming such a place even exists outside his head. Guy's Winnipeg is less a city to hail from than a lap to crumple up in, a weird analogy repeatedly reinforced by a rapid montage of a lady's crotch followed by a map illustrating the gentle junction of Winnipeg's major rivers.
The civic and personal milestones Guy recounts are colorful, bizarre, and often dubious. I'm not certain that Winnipeg has a shadow system of back lanes that aren't permitted on official maps, for instance, unless they're what we call "alleys"—in which case, way to blow something out of proportion. But I'm pretty convinced Maddin's father died when he was young (explains the Oedipal obsession), though not before the elder Maddin could instill a passion (homoerotic and otherwise) for the local hockey team, the Winnipeg Maroons (see Cowards Bend the Knee). As for the law against discarding old signage, the frozen horse heads, the rooftop homeless population, even the smoking girls in short skirts, it's all terribly muddled. The facts are as embellished as Maddin's style is hyperventilated, and it works brilliantly.