The Twentieth Century is like a David Lynch work by way of Guy Maddin. The film, which is chock full of hypnotically bizarre elements, has been made to resemble something from the early days of motion pictures. It has a square aspect ratio, mono sound, and a lo-fi visual style that utilizes tricks you might expect to see in a stage production. Calling a director “visionary” is one of the most over-used movie trailer clichés, although in Matthew Rankin's case, that word undoubtedly applies. Every shot brims over with confidence.
Loosely based on actual Canadian history, the story concerns Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne), a young man determined to become the Prime Minister at the turn of the century. He competes in a series of games designed to pick a winner. Categories include Ribbon Cutting and “Endurance Tickling.” Unfortunately for Mackenzie, he ties for second place, with the dashing Bert Harper (Mikhaïl Ahooja) winning. Even worse, Harper captures the heart of Lady Ruby Elliott (Catherine St-Laurent), the woman Mackenzie believed it was his destiny to marry. From there, the movie follows what happens as its hero's fate changes in drastic ways.
The Twentieth Century offers a barrage of odd, captivating sights: an ejaculating cactus, a gigantic bird creature, a chastity belt with alarm clock bells, a chase scene on ice skates, and much more. Gender is frequently manipulated in the film, with a male actor playing the protagonist's mother and female actors donning fake mustaches to play men. Scenes taking place indoors look realistic, but when characters set foot outside, they walk through heavily stylized sets with lots of triangular forms and zig-zag walkways. There isn't a single image in this movie that isn't interesting to look at.
This is definitely a case of style over substance. I can't say that I cared all that much about the characters, nor did I have any real emotional investment in the story. In some cases, that might be a dealbreaker. The Twentieth Century is often quite funny, though, with its surreal set pieces and wry dialogue. All the actors bring just the right amount of absurdity to the project to keep it entertaining in that What will I see next? manner.
And, of course, there's Rankin's vision for the movie. I appreciate how well-thought out and planned everything is. Nothing in The Twentieth Century is slapped-together. Right down to the smallest detail, you sense the filmmaker's touch. Such meticulous care is enthralling because you can feel the passion. No one can deny that this is a weird movie. Nevertheless, it's gloriously weird, and that quality, combined with the skillful production values, makes it fun to watch.
out of four
The Twentieth Century is unrated, but contains adult language, sexual content, and some violence, all played for laughs. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.