The Twentieth Century | Chicago Reader
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The Twentieth Century

Winnipeg-born writer-director Matthew Rankin’s feature debut is at once an idiosyncratic oddity and a veritable pastiche: what’s unique about it amuses and what it references—specifically the films of fellow Winnipegger Guy Maddin—echoes in this satire-cum-revisionist biopic about William Lyon Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne), Canada’s longest-serving prime minister. Over the course of ten chapters, King struggles to assume the role on the brink of the twentieth century, a rise to power here realized through a series of inane competitions and a picaresque journey that involves King trying to find love—he’s torn between the governor general's daughter (Catherine St-Laurent) and his ailing mother’s nurse (Sarianne Cormier)—all while hiding his predilection for sniffing ladies’ shoes. It’s a mix of Maddin’s nostalgia-laden hodgepodges and absurd sketch comedy, with a bit of grotesque camp à la Rocky Horror thrown in for good measure. Most striking about the film is its visual aesthetic: it was shot on 16mm, and various locales are, in contrast to the mostly human cast, represented by colorfully animated Art Deco-like tableaus that vaguely recall those of German silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger. Rankin has noted that he was inspired by having read King’s diary while at university; as a biopic it penetrates the pathos of its ostensible subject more than it attempts to be faithful to any sort of historical (or, in this case, ahistorical) scenario it’s suggesting. It also functions as a critique of Canada’s particular brand of self-mythologizing, which might challenge foreign audiences’ perceptions of the Great (?) White North.

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