Matthew Rankin is an experimental Canadian film-maker now presenting his debut feature, and the director he most obviously resembles is the silent-movie pasticheur Guy Maddin – a comparison some will find intriguing and others heart-sinking. For me, it’s somehow both. But there are interesting signs that Rankin has something Maddin does not: a sense of humour. We get one or two actual laughs.
The Twentieth Century is a weird melange of expressionist theatrics, monochrome and bleached-out colourisations (although it is not faux-silent in the Maddin style, and no scratches on the print), sometimes resembling a stage-play. It is a quirky dream-comedy about Mackenzie King, Canada’s venerable Liberal prime minister and establishment panjandrum, which satirises the country’s stolid colonial traditions. King – or a fictionalised version of him – is played by Dan Beirne as an earnest, priggish young careerist with a Stan Laurel-ish bowler hat. He yearns to be prime minister, subservient to the British colonial establishment, symbolised by a national flag called the “Disappointment”.
King is also in love with his political rival’s daughter Ruby (Catherine St-Laurent) but finds himself drawn to his elderly mother’s Francophone Quebecers separatist nurse (Sarianne Cormier) and there are bizarre sexual shenanigans, as King derives secret pleasure from sniffing Catherine’s discarded boot. It is funny when King and his competitors have to go through a series of wacky tests (in lieu of anything like a democratic election) to see if they have the right stuff to be a properly pompous and pointless Canadian prime minister. Finally, the film dissolves in silliness and whimsy, but not before it’s given us some surreal spectacle.
• Released on 15 February on Mubi.