The Saddest Music in the World - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Saddest Music in the World Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ October 23, 2011
A legless Canadian beer magnate (Isabella Rosselini) holds a contest during the Great Depression to discover the titular music; the bout attracts a musical family with a very odd and twisted history. Very funny if you can get past the need for everything to make absolute sense; Guy Maddin continues his visual experiments in recreating the look and feel of movies from the 20s and early 30s, yet this may be his most accessible and mainstream story.
Super Reviewer
½ April 20, 2011
Watched this as part of my avant-garde film class. Because I am lazy, here is the response I wrote:

Since taking this class, I've developed an odd pleasure in picking out experimental technique in conventionally narrative films. Being aware of the genesis of many of these techniques and how mainstream cinematic culture has reappropriated them has really enhanced my comprehension and appreciation of the form overall. The Saddest Music in the World, in this regard, was the perfect capstone for this semester's screenings; its artful blurring of the line between a knowingly sentimental, almost maudlin narrative and unabashed avant-garde aesthetic sensibility extends a hand to an audience familiar with both worlds, inviting us to share in a celebration of the specific elements that make film so great.

Even without its unique visual approach, The Saddest Music in the World would be a suitably bizarre movie. Its story, full of larger-than-life quirks and flourishes, suggests a certain magical realism, right down to its talking tapeworm and its prophetic medicine man in the snowy wilderness of Canada. It is wound, however, around a core of human loss and tragedy recognizable to any viewer - the challenge of the film is that Guy Maddin makes us work strenuously through his vision to reach that core. We must first swim through the often grainy, blurred picture, the rapid-fire editing, and montages of images that seem to make very little sense. These stylistic devices almost serve as layers of protection, as if Maddin was reluctant to surrender the emotions of his story right away. The movie teases in a playful way, conveniently strapping the emotional linchpin of the film with amnesia (and nymphomania), and it never truly divulges all its secrets, such as the ultimate fate of Roderick's son. Audiences accustomed to more commercial films may find this lack of closure unsatisfying, but the movie quickly makes clear that Maddin's definition of satisfaction is different than normal.

The Saddest Music in the World is most interesting when its concept is dismantled fundamentally: what is it that makes music sad? Ultimately, a song boils down to a collection of resonances, sonic symbols that have more meaning to some than others. It is an immensely abstract art form, especially when its role in cinematic aesthetics is considered. Music is highly cultural, and American film culture has strictly regimented ideas about what constitutes appropriate music, which is what makes the concept of this film so exciting. In exploring the "sad" music of other countries around the world, we are thus invited to look at what we consider objectively sad and contrast it to the vastly different sounds that we hear. It serves as something of a metaphor at large for the film's idea of tragedy, because no matter how it is presented, or how we've experienced it, sad occurrences invoke the same universal sensations.
Super Reviewer
½ March 3, 2008
I haven't viewed much of Guy Maddin's work, but after seeing THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD, I'm not in any hurry too. I really liked the setting, plot, and Isabella Rossellini, but the dialogue is terrible and the weird for weird's sake approach to the material is almost nausiating.
Super Reviewer
½ January 16, 2008
Five words: Isabella Rossellini Glass Beer Legs. I turely imaginative and funny story about broken hearts, revenge and capitalism.
Super Reviewer
½ December 8, 2006
I have to say, this is easily the weirdest thing I have ever seen. I loved the 1930's feel of the movie, and how America's "competetor(s)" in the contest turned out to be just as multicultural as the country itself.
Super Reviewer
½ November 23, 2006
A little goofy, kind of enjoyable and kind of dry. Catch it if you can but don't go out of your way.
Super Reviewer
September 19, 2012
The best Guy Maddin film..which isn't saying much given how much Guy Maddin films give me a headache. This one at least has a unique plot and interesting concepts. If only someone else had directed it.
Super Reviewer
½ February 19, 2012
It has a sad, surreal atmosphere that suggests a type of fantasy nostalgia, as if Maddin is lamenting a false version of the past that he desperately wishes was real. The result is a film that's intoxicating to watch. Its also a pretty spot on and rather hilarious satire of perceived cultural identity and America's invasive notion of superiority.
Super Reviewer
June 15, 2011
A Damn fine slice of Canadiana, centering around a competition in the height of the great depression to determine which nation produces the saddest music in the world. Oddball humour, surrealism and drama ensue. Guy Maddin is a director I've been meaning to check out for awhile now, and I'm glad I've finally made the plunge. I plan on watching the 'auto-biographical' trilogy within the next couple days after really enjoying this. The old tyme style of the film is incredibly genuine and I often had to remind myself that this was filmed in 2003. The humour was really bizarre but really good and I found myself laughing more than I have at a movie in a really long time. Isabella Rossellini was terrific as I had expected. Mark McKinney and Maria de Medeiros were no slouches either. The performances were over the top and kind of cheesy but it fit the overall tone of the movie well in my opinion. Strongly recommended.
Super Reviewer
September 3, 2008
"If you are sad and like beer, I'm your lady."
Super Reviewer
February 17, 2007
Hilarious film about a competition to create "The Saddest Music in the World". Kinda works with the title. Maddin's use of melodramatic comedy is pitch perfect in this one, the despair is perfectly counteracted by the ridiculousness of the characters and story. The film is uniquely Maddinish (which should be a film term along with Kubrickian and Lynchian) and wonderful to watch. Worth 100 bottles of tears.
September 10, 2013
Ten years after its (very) limited theatrical release, this remains as one of the most purely imaginative and intriguingly bizarre cinematic experiences I have EVER watched and/or witnessed. 'The Saddest Music in the World' is set in 1933 and stars Isabella Rossellini (Death Becomes Her) as the legless beer baroness, Lady Helen Port-Huntley, whose sad-ish life in the lonely and (Great) Depression-ravaged city of Winnipeg, Canada, announces a singing competition to be hosted in her city to find "The Saddest Music in the World". Contestants from the far-reaches of the globe pour into Winnipeg and sing/perform one sad song after another. Port-Huntley is unaware that some of the entrants have past (tragic) connections to her from years earlier but she does make the connection with the singer representing the Land of the Maple Leaf, Fyodor Kent (David Fox - Mama) -- who gifts Lady Port-Huntley two glass legs filled to the brim with liquid gold (beer). Fyodor has two sons also competing for the top prize (representing the US and Serbia) -- which becomes something other than the $25K -- when more of the past is remembered and tears begin to flow freely. Director Guy Maddin has created an unusual experience here with heavy use of authentic-looking grainy, black-and-white images -- with bits of color toyed around with onscreen from time to time. The film and storyline are both absurd but it is all about spectacle ... Lady Port-Huntley walks around in glass, beer-filled legs while people sing sad songs. We are supposed to enjoy the absurdity here ... and I did.
½ May 6, 2010
Am I wrong because most of my favorite scenes were the actual contest parts? Maybe I just like the idea of two cultures competing face to face over music instead of fists or weapons. That's a unique idea and I love it.

However, Isabella Rossellini as the beer baroness Lady Helen was fabulous. Ultimately her character is just a tragic and wounded soul, as are most of the characters. They are all a bit emotionally damaged.

I'll give it credit that it's a great dark comedy with these elements: glass legs, talking tapeworms (wtf), and a quirky score all in all. The dialogue is funny and enjoyable - emulating screwball comedies of the 30's but it falls a bit flat on the wittiness. I personally wish it could have gone into another direction, maybe more emphasis on the actual contest and the depression era. I think it would have made it a far more interesting story.

It's definitely worth the watch for the nice execution of many experimental ideas. The world Guy Maddin has created is really like nothing else. There are obvious silent film influences & effects. At some points of the film Isabella absolutely GLOWS and it's enchanting, much like you would see in F.W. Murnau's work. The entire look of the film is antiquated and feels many years old. It's mostly in grainy black and white but there are some scenes in gorgeous technicolor.

It's definitely an original and one of a kind experience. I applaud it for that.
½ September 16, 2010
While not stunning, magnificent, or intense, this homage to early expressionism in film is nevertheless one of the most delicious screening experiences I've ever enjoyed. It is humorous at times, and a little poignant, but mainly it is an exquisite facsimile of films of a bygone era. The film stock is extremely grainy, the dialog is tight, fast, and a bit mad with power, the characters are so extreme as to be parodies of themselves, and the symbolism is overt. The plot is at once ludicrous and brilliant. Expect true melodrama, and lots of it, delivered perfectly.
April 27, 2010
I loved the idea of it, but I think I would have liked to see it, not necessarily more modern in style of character and clothing but more modern in filming. I hate that it looks so old. I want to see things more clearly. I love the plot, and even the characters, definitely the time period, just not how the film looks.
Super Reviewer
December 5, 2008
Isabella Rosolini with fake legs full of beer? Mark McKinney from kids in the hall? What the hell is going on here? I don't know, but keep it coming.
June 22, 2007
An interesting story, some neat scenery and visuals, but there was something about this film that I just didn't like.
June 1, 2007
Creatively shot, well acted, and a bizarre plot make this a wonderful and sadly overlooked film. Excellent music!
½ February 7, 2007
Some moments of narrative lag keep this from being a masterpiece, but that minor quibble doesn't do much else to tarnish this otherwise engrossing and unique work of art. Guy Maddin proves that the indie comedy doesn't need to imitate Wes Anderson to achieve success. I can't remember ever seeing a comedy that was so powerfully lyrical without the narrative or the form suffering. There are moments in that film that will be forever ingrained in my memory.
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