Matthew Rankin’s loony debut feature, “The Twentieth Century,” presents a feverish reimagining of turn-of-the-20th-century Canada. An exuberant feat of visual design, it’s meticulously weird and full of rambunctious humor.
In Rankin’s lurid vision, the goody-two-shoes Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne) is groomed to be prime minister by his eccentric, shut-in mother (Louis Negin). King — the character shares his name with the actual 10th prime minister of Canada — faces major obstacles: a fascist leader called Lord Muto (Seán Cullen), bullying from other candidates and some heavy sexual neuroses. He’s energized by Muto’s noble daughter, Ruby (Catherine Saint-Laurent), but political defeat plunges him into self-loathing and an all-consuming foot fetish.
Like I said, this isn’t the Canada of history textbooks (despite including the Boer War). It’s more akin to the fond burlesques of Guy Maddin, or the surreal lampooning of “The Kids in the Hall.” Maddin is largely the method here: Rankin similarly toys with the Victorian trappings of silent-movie melodramas (orphans, wall-to-wall yearning), supercharged with rude passions that would tickle Freud. The candidates for prime minister compete in “tests of leadership” that poke fun at national identity: sniff-testing wood, passive-aggressive queuing, and clubbing baby seals.
“The Twentieth Century” also boggles the eyes with, well, 20th-century arts. The expressionistic sets evoke wartime poster art and Art Deco, and the 16 millimeter film stock yields both ruddy hues and Northern Lights blues. Is it all a bit much? Sure, but the self-consciousness is baked in: Rankin names one public gathering place “Disappointment Square.”
The Twentieth Century
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.