(director/writer: Matthew Rankin; cinematographer: Vincent Biron; editor: Matthew Rankin; music: Peter Venne/Cristophe Lamarche-Ledoux; cast: Dan Beirne (Mackenzie King), Sarianne Cormier (Nurse), Catherine St-Laurent (Ruby), Sean Cullen (Lord Muton), Mikhaïl Ahooja (Bert Harper), Brent Skagford (Arthur Meighen), Louis Negin (Mother), Kee Chan (Arthur Meighen), Trevor Anderson (Mr. Justice Richardson), Satine Scarlett Montaz (Little Charlotte), Sarianne Cormier (Nurse); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gabrielle Tougas-Frechette/Ménaïc Raoul; Oscilloscope Laboratories; 2019-Canada-in English and French with subtitles)

“A Guy Maddin film not directed by him.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian filmmaker Matthew Rankin in his debut feature offers a Guy Maddin film not directed by him. A stunning faux biopic, that clamors to be taken at face value as the reason the last century was a big disappointment was because it chose the wrong leaders. Its visuals of 20th-century Art Deco are dazzling, its narrative might be dizzying to non-Canadians, and its bizarre story of good vs. evil might surprise you that it’s a true story of someone who actually one day became the Canadian P.M..

It’s set at the
turn-of-the-20th-century in Toronto, Canada, in 1899.

The momma’s boy
ambitious young politician Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne) is groomed to be prime minister by his eccentric, shut-in mother (Louis Negin, in a drag performance). The candidate must rally against a hawkish fascistic type of leader, Lord Muto (Seán Cullen), campaigning against him and overcome the bullying tactics from the other candidates and some personal sexual neuroses he never overcame. King comes in second to the dashing Bert Harper (Mikhaïl Ahooja), who also wins the heart of the goddess-like Governor-General Muto’s daughter Ruby (Catherine Saint-Laurent), someone King desired to marry as a perfect mate to help his political career. But she’s too far above him in station to ever stoop down to marry him.

When King suffers a humiliating political defeat and finishes second, it’s
too much for him to face and he becomes self-loathing and plagued by a foot fetish. His love interests waver between a British soldier and a French nurse (Sarianne Cormier). But the comedy never wavers in its Monty Python absurdities.

The Canadian history lesson doesn’t go according to a text book reading, but more in the line of high camp. Rankin gives it a nutty comical flavor and some queer storytelling, but
provides superior craftsmanship, visionary splendor, thusly making it an irresistible watch even for non-Canadians who might miss a lot of the subtle digs. However no one will miss its uniqueness and non-subtle digs, such as at one public gathering place the name given for it is “Disappointment Square.”

At the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival it won the prize for the Best Canadian First Film Feature.