directed by Guy Maddin
length: 6 minutes
Guy Maddin has made a career out of tirelessly plumbing the depths of a niche so specific that most people would be surprised to know that it even exists. Since the late 1980s, Maddin has been making highly stylized films cut from the mold of early silent cinema. His most recent releases have been Brand Upon the Brain! and My Winnipeg, both of which are terrific experiments in autobiography and human memory. The most obvious visual references in his work come from classic German Expressionist films by directors like F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, but he has said he's also heavily indebted to the works of Carl Dreyer and the surrealist collaborations between Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. Maddin is perhaps one of the most polarizing figures in modern cinema. His detractors cite him as a textbook example of style-over-substance filmmaking and tend to throw around that damnable expression "art for art's sake." But Maddin lovers (myself included) see him as a unique visionary in a world where films increasingly lack courage, creativity and any sort of factor that makes them exciting and, in turn, worth watching at all.
The plot of the film makes it sound more like an absurdist epic than a six-minute short: two brothers (Nikolai is a mortician and Osip an actor who plays Jesus in passion plays) fall in love with the same woman, Anna, a scientist studying the biology of the earth's core, "the very hear tof the world." One day, Anna discovers that the world is about to suffer heart failure. Unable to choose between the two brothers, she marries a rich entrepreneur, which sends the ailing world into an even more drastic tailspin. Anna realizes that she must make the ultimate self-sacrifice to save the world: she must travel to the earth's core and replace the heart of the world with her own. Once she does this, the word "Kino" (which means "cinema" in German) appears repeatedly on the screen, and then the credits roll.
The Heart of the World is my favorite of the Maddin shorts I've seen. Not only is it a visually dazzling little piece, it is also a clever commentary of the inherent brevity of short films themselves. The themes that Maddin tackles in Heart of the World (apocalypse, jealousy, self-sacrifice, salvation through art, etc.) are larger than life, the kind of themes usually only found in feature-length films. By touching on these themes so lightly here, Maddin coyly mocks the thematic limitations of short films and then flies in the face of them by making such an "epic" short. He also scoffs at filmic conventions like exposition or well-developed character arcs here. In a feature film, Osip's career as an actor playing Jesus would be a goldmine of intriguing exposition in which other filmmakers would gladly find all sorts of symbolism and religious commentary. But Maddin introduces Osip with a simple intertitle that reads, "An actor, playing Christ in the passion play." With its quick cuts and dismissal of filmic conventions, Heart of the World races through to its dramatic conclusion at light speed.
The critical reaction to Heart of the World fascinates me. It still remains one of Maddin's most acclaimed films (it received awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the National Society of Film Critics Awards), and it has the highest rating of any of his films on IMDB (a whopping 8.2!). Not that IMDB is any sort of scientific barometer of things like this, but very few short films on the site have as lively a discussion board as Heart of the World (one of the threads is entitled, "Favorite part?", something that most users would not think to ask about a film that only runs six minutes.) Even people who find Maddin's style grating seem to enjoy this film. So my question is this: WHY? For those of you familiar with Maddin's feature-length work, do you find that his films are easier to "stomach" in a compact form like this? And for those of you who have never seen a Guy Maddin film before, do you think you could deal with 90 minutes of this, or is "novelty" of his style more suitable for shorts?