Watching Guy Maddin's films always reminds me of a famous saying about religious faith: “To those who believe, no explanation is necessary. To those who don't, no explanation is possible.”
If you enjoy his strange meditations on love and loss, you will probably respond positively to “My Winnipeg.” If not, you may feel as if you've stepped into a surreal snowdrift and can't climb out.
“Winnipeg” lacks even the loose narrative thread of “The Saddest Music in the World” or “Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary.” The Canadian writer-director meditates on his childhood in Manitoba's largest city, and the movie is a mixture of reflection, reverence and revilement.
Maddin narrates, filling the screen with factoids that may or may not be true: “Winnipeg has the highest percentage of sleepwalkers in the world.” He depicts residents of the city as being lost in a dreamy torpor, in love with a past they can't reclaim yet unable to seek a more hopeful present elsewhere. (He keeps cutting to a train where his character, Guy Maddin, dozes off in a last futile attempt to “escape.”)
Maddin invents characters and attributes “facts” to them, yet he also uses real people: All-star hockey center Fred Dunsmore, now in his late 70s, plays on a team of ghostly greats in an abandoned rink.
Maddin also has hired actors to impersonate his family, allegedly in the hope of re-creating incidents that throw light on his past but probably as a joke: The scene where his siblings threaten their ancient mother with a parakeet is laugh-aloud loony. (She's played by Columbia native Ann Savage, a femme fatale famous for the 1945 B-noir “Detour.” She can still bite through a line like a chain saw through a dead tree.)
Black-and-white cinematography blends real archival footage with re-creations of the past and rare color shots from the present. Maddin also intersperses natural sound with sound that seems natural but isn't: The train noises were shot at a different time from the train footage, then superimposed. The results amount to a soft, drifting dream of a motion picture.