Directed by: Guy Maddin.
Written by: Guy Maddin.
Starring: Leslie Bais (Anna), Caelum Vatnsdal (Osip), Shaun Balbar (Nikolai), Greg Klymkiw (Akmatov).
If you are one of those poor, unfortunate souls who has not yet discovered the films of mad, Canadian genius Guy Maddin, than his 2000 short The Heart of the World may just be the place to start. It’s one of his best films to be sure – and typical of its work, it takes its inspiration from silent films (this one from Soviet films in particular), but does so in a way that wholly unique, wholly Guy Maddin. If you hate the film – and some will – its only 6 minutes long, so you won’t suffer for long. If you love it – and many will – you may have just discovered one of your new favorite filmmakers.
The film was commissioned by TIFF for the festival in 2000. Maddin, along with other Canadian filmmakers like David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema and Michael Snow (among others) were approached to make a 4 minute film to play in front of certain features. Apparently when Maddin heard that many filmmakers were planning on doing shorts with relatively few shots and simple stories, Maddin decided, of course, to do just the opposite. He expanded the film to 6 minutes after TIFF, and the film averages 2 shots per second for the entire runtime, and packs in a features worth of story into its runtime. In many ways, it plays like a silent film on fast forward.
The film is about two brothers who are both in love with the same woman, Anna (Leslie Bais), a State Scientist. Osip (Caelum Vatnsdal) is a mortician, who works with speed on an assembly line of corpses coming to him. Nikolai (Shaun Balbar) is an actor, who latest role is as Christ in a Passion Play, and he tries to impress Anna with his suffering. But Anna instead falls in love with Akmatov (Greg Klymkiw), an evil, fat, wealthy industrialist. But Anna discovers that the world itself is in danger of a heart attack – which would kill it – so she slides into the center of the earth to become its new heart – cinema.
The Heart of the World is a treasure trove for silent films fans. Yes, the movie references Soviet films more than anything else – the wealthy industrialist looks a lot like some of Eisenstein (in, say Strike), but there’s a lot of references here. Because the shots fly by so quickly, watching the first – or even second or third time through – isn’t enough to capture everything. It’s a short that not only rewards, but demands repeat viewings. I wasn’t at TIFF in 2000 – but I’ve been there many years, and I can tell you, the shorts and ads that play before the movie – even the best of them – get old, fast. I cannot imagine not perking up though had this played at the front of each movie one year I was there.
The Heart of the World is brilliantly constructed, witty, funny, moving and out and out fun. It is Guy Maddin at the height of his powers – which is why what could have been a throwaway film for many directors, ended up being one of the most acclaimed in Maddin’s career (he won quite a few awards for it). It is a short masterpiece – and the perfect place to start if you don’t already know Maddin.