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December 20, 2006

My Dad Is 100 Years Old


Speaking of guts...

Guy Maddin is one of the filmmakers whose work taught me to appreciate short films not as formal abbreviations or calling cards whose running times were an affect of budgetary restrictions, but as pieces of cinema that, in the best of cases, were just as much features as their longer counterparts, and often more than able to stand their own against them. His 2000 epic, The Heart Of The World, is one of my favorite films, a position that, despite my infamously short attention span, has nothing to do with its six minute running time (even though, yes, its form and length are intrinsically linked). Those six minutes are not a restraint of content, but the natural extent of it - the ecstatic, gloriously hyperpobolically natural extent, in this particular case.

So, suffice to say, I was excited to see that the Film Forum was screening Maddin and Isabella Rossellini's My Dad Is 100 Years Old before the feature length documentary Bergman's Island. Even though that film's subject, Ingmar Bergman, is one of my very favorite filmmakers, the draw here was clear: I went for the Maddin.

Rossellini, who starred in Maddin' most successful feature, The Saddest Music In The World, wrote the script for this one, and deserves equal credit as collaborator, co-conspirator, raison de'tre - for the film is a memoir of her father, Roberto, in celebration of his centennial. I don't know whether it was her idea or Maddin's to portray the late director as a giant, disembodied belly, but its a marvelously grotesque touch, equal parts realistic detail and legendary heft. It'll seem perfectly natural to anyone who's seen Maddin's last picture, Cowards Bend The Knee - or, more precisely, seen the film and then listened to his commentary track, in which he reveals how intensely personal the film was to him. He has a specific way of refracting and warping biography through that small-gauge aperture of his, to create something that is simultaneously absurd and sincerely melancholy.

My Dad Is 100 Years Old is, naturally, far less opaque in its sentimentality than Cowards. Rossellini's script gradually intertwines subjective memories of her father with discourse between him and his contemporaries - Hitchcock, Selznick, Chaplin, Fellini. Rossellini plays all of them, as well as providing the deep baritone of that thundering paunch and (to a haunting effect) the flickering ghost of her mother, Ingrid.

The closing moments - in which Rossellini chides Maddin's camera for being, as her father would put it, immoral, while embracing the finally dormant form of that massive stomach, are almost profoundly moving. But I must note that, while I think this is one of the finest films of the year, my appreciation of it is severely lacking. I can only understand it as a love letter from a father to a daughter (which it is, but not exclusively), because I've yet to see any of Roberto Rosselini's films. Between this lovely memoir and all the talk around the retrospective that's been coing on at the MoMA, I'm anxious to see what I've been missing.

The film ended its run at the Film Forum yesterday, but I think it'll be showing up on the Sundance Channel before too long, and I'm sure it will arrive on DVD at some point after that. At the moment, it's also available on YouTube; his films seem to fluctuate there, going up, coming down; it's hardly the most ideal way to watch them, but they're there if you want them.

Posted by David Lowery at December 20, 2006 4:10 AM


whoo youtube..i guess.... at least i can see it

Posted by: brad at December 21, 2006 3:47 PM