The Saddest Music in the World

Director: Guy Maddin
Screenwriters: Kazuo Ishiguro, Guy Maddin, George Toles

Institute History

  • 2004 Sundance Film Festival


Unspeakably funny and brilliantly absurd, Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World is a delightfully twisted musical melodrama that serves up a heady brew of surreal storytelling and madly caffeinated characters.

The story, adapted from an original screenplay by author Kazuo Ishiguro, takes place at the height of the Great Depression. To boost sales, the legless beer baroness of Winnipeg, Lady Port-Huntly (an inspired portrayal by Isabella Rossellini), announces a competition to determine the saddest music in all the world. The competition attracts musical acts from all over the globe, everywhere from Siam to Mexico to Scotland. Entering from America is Canadian-born Chester Kent, who is accompanied by Narcissa, an amnesiac nymphomaniac who has a tapeworm that talks to her. Chester's lovelorn brother, Roderick, represents Serbia, while their father sings "Red Maple Leaves" for Canada. The Kent family untwines family secrets and rivalries amidst the manipulative backstage dealings of the contest while Lady Port-Huntly judges sad song battles, sending the winners down a slide into a large vat of beer.

Maddin's singular vision creates a dazzling visual treat amazingly packaged in distressed and flickering black-and-white footage. Insanely inventive and brimming with exceptional performances, The Saddest Music in the World is as audacious as it is entertaining.

— Shari Frilot

Screening Details

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