See Guy Maddin’s surreal documentary film My Winnipeg, Saturday afternoon at the Cinémathèque Québécoise

Guy Maddin's film My Winnipeg includes a surreal story about racehorses who were trapped in a river when they fled a fire in stable. The horses remained there, frozen in place, until spring arrived. The frozen horses even became a local tourist attraction!
Guy Maddin’s film My Winnipeg includes a weird tale about racehorses who were trapped in a river when they fled a stable fire. The horses remained there, frozen in place, until spring arrived. The frozen horses even became a local tourist attraction!

Montrealers! You can experience the wonderful film My Winnipeg this afternoon, for the first time or as a repeat visit, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. And I strongly suggest that you do just that!

With My Winnipeg, director Guy Maddin made something that’s both very intriguing and very hard to classify. That’s par for the course with Maddin, though. (The first Maddin film I saw was Tales of the Gimli Hospital. So strange! I did not write about it at the time. Maybe some day.)

My Winnipeg combines elements of history, myth, fantasy, personal memoir and docu-drama. Even with that description, I’m probably leaving many things out, since it’s been a few years since I saw this 2007 film. Watching it was like being a guest in someone else’s fascinating, foggy dream. It was mesmerizing and occasionally hilarious, though Maddins delivery remains deadpan throughout.

Among the things I remember: Maddin talks about insomnia, his childhood home, a large network of secret alleyways that covers the city, without appearing on any maps, the brutally cold winter that saw race horses fleeing a burning barn only to die in the river, where they remained, frozen stiff, until spring came. Walking onto the ice to “visit” the horses became a popular thing to do.

Winnipeg is the capitol of Manitoba; Maddin takes us to the provincial legislature where he talks about Freemasons and examines the alleged symbolism and significance of the building’s architectural elements and the statue of the Golden Boy on the building’s dome.

In scenes set in Maddin’s childhood home (over a beauty parlour) elderly U.S. actress Ann Savage portrays his mother. Many early viewers thought that she WAS his mother. I believe that she won an award or two for her work. (I’ll try to verify that.)

Other things I remember: An old-fashioned looking map (like something from a film or TV show made back in the 1950s) showing Winnipeg as the centre of the world with various lines converging there, a visit with an astronomer, some kind of Nazi parade during World War II (it was part of a civil defence exercise, in case Canada was invaded by Germany).

My Winnipeg is a treat and it’s made by a Canadian, too. What’s not to like?

(Disclaimer: In the interest of speed, I have written this post based entirely on my memory of the film – except for the part about when it will be shown, the address of the Cinémathèque Québecoise, etc. After posting I’ll do some research and modify this post if necessary. And I’ll add some quotes from favourable reviews. I know they won’t be hard to find, because I’ve read them before.)

I’m back, with some review snippets. My Winnipeg has 119 reviews on, though sadly, many of the links are broken, including the one to the review written by Al Kratina, my blogleague at the Montreal Gazette’s Cine Files. Tsk! Technology is not always our friend.

Esteemed film critic Roger Ebert liked My Winnipeg a lot. Here are some excerpts from his review: “If you love movies in the very sinews of your imagination, you should experience the work of Guy Maddin. . . If you hear of one opening, seize the day. Or search where obscure films can be found. You will be plunged into the mind of a man who thinks in the images of old silent films, disreputable documentaries, movies that never were, from eras beyond comprehension. His imagination frees the lurid possibilities of the banal. He rewrites history; when that fails, he creates it.”

“(1) Shot for shot, Maddin can be as surprising and delightful as any filmmaker has ever been, and (2) he is an acquired taste, but please, sir, may I have some more?”

Mark Kermode of The Observer says: “Fans of early David Lynch will find a kindred spirit in Maddin’s surreal monochrome vision, while his infatuation with the archaic mechanics of early cinema yields peculiarly modern dividends.”

“The narrative tone is sonorously ‘factual’, yet how much of this alternative history should we believe? . . .Is there really a surreptitious taxi trade serving backroads and alleyways that do not appear on any maps, crisscrossing the city over a maze of hidden rivers through which the true blood of the locals flows?”

Kermode’s final verdict? My Winnipeg is “poignant, truthful and hilarious.”

A.O. Scott of the New York Times says:  “After seeing “My Winnipeg,” Guy Maddin’s odd and touching tribute to his hometown, I was tempted to do some further research.”

But . . .”Fact-checking “My Winnipeg” would be absurd, since the film, which combines archival documentary images with freshly shot, antique-looking passages, is more concerned with lyrical truth than with literal accuracy. And even though I suspect that some of its more outlandish assertions are at least partly grounded in fact, Mr. Maddin is engaged less in historical inquiry than in hallucinatory autobiography, ruminating on the deep and accidental relationship between a specific place and an individual life.”

As “My Winnipeg” conjures it, the bond between city and filmmaker is ambivalent and reciprocal. Much as he may dream of taking that one-way rail journey to somewhere else, Mr. Maddin can no more spurn Winnipeg than it can disown him.”

“. . . unleashing his eye and imagination on the prosaic, sad reality of an ordinary North American town, he proposes an alternative account that is mysterious, heroic and tragic. His Winnipeg is a place where ghosts commingle with regular citizens and may in fact be the true native spirits.”


See My Winnipeg (2007) 35 mm, directed by Guy Maddin, 80 minutes long, in the original English version, on Saturday, June 13, 2015 at 5 p.m., at the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E., (metro Berri-UQAM)

You can watch a trailer for My Winnipeg on the Cinémathèque’s web site. That trailer is not bad, but the excerpt below, about the secret alleys, will give you a better idea of the mood of the film.

Just a warning about the Cinémathèque’s web site – the page for “Today at the Cinémathèque'” says that the 5 p.m. film is La nuit du rêveur. What? A change in schedule? I feared that I had written this post for nothing. But no, La nuit du rêveur is the French name of the film. This version does not have French subtitles, though. This screenings is part of a series called Les nuits du cinéma, which runs until June 20, 2015.

Tickets at the Cinémathèque Québécoise are $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors. Admission is FREE for those 16 years old and younger. How great is that?


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