Biopics are a big screen staple. They give us insight to people we’ll never meet and bring history to life but there has never been a biography quite like the Matthew Rankin’s “The Twentieth Century.” A heightened look at the life of Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, it’s part Dada, part Art Deco and utterly unique.
The bizarre biography sees a marvellously deadpan Daniel Beirne as the young Mackenzie King. As a child his mother (Louis Negin) prophesied his political destiny to become the tenth Prime Minister. King’s road to history significance is a rocky one, marked by romance trouble, chronic masturbation, over confidence, sexual fetishes and an ice maze.
You didn’t learn any of this in Mr. Parker’s history class.
Director Matthew Rankin uses a heightened version of his main character’s biographical details to craft a satire of Canadian identity and masculinity. Like a Heritage Minute on acid the film details King’s campaign. Instead of policy the film pits politicians against one another in “traditional” Canadian pastimes like baby seal clubbing and waiting your turn.
A farce coupled with deep commentary and a heightened yet minimalist style that recalls the films of Guy Maddin by way of German Expressionism, “The Twentieth Century” has timely messages about the dangers of empty political rhetoric and the processes by which we elect our leaders.
Rankin casts a wide net here, parodying everything from politics and diffident national outlook to British imperialism and even foot fetishes but does so in a wonderfully surreal way that is equal parts silly and sincere.