As the title suggests, The Twentieth Century opens at the close of the previous one. A young elite is groomed and ready to ascend the ranks of Canadian politics – and not even his most ridiculous perversions and fantasies will stand in his way. The story of William Lyon McKenzie King (1874-1950) and his destined rise to Prime Minister is rooted in Canadian political history and traditions – albeit those lampooned to the extreme – but viewers from all over the world will find something hilariously, horrifyingly relatable in this Dadaist nightmare.

As McKenzie King moves under the thumb of his overbearing mother through the Canadian version of the Bullingdon Club, Dan Beirne captures both the insecurity of a youth looking for constant validation and the arrogance of one who has never had to fight for anything in his life. His matinee idol styling makes him almost a blank slate on which to project whatever is required of leadership – regardless of whatever ideals, or not, he stands for. He is present in almost every scene of the film, and this unchanging portrait proves bizarre and chilling as his image is contorted to fit his and his party’s ends.

The set and cinematography, on 16mm, evoke something between a Weimar nightmare and an Edwardian wedding cake extraordinaire. Combined with the performers’ Brechtian declamation, the dizzying spectacle would feel like a piece from another era were it not for the explicitly delinquent behaviour indulged in on screen. The juxtaposition sometimes tries too hard to shock, but the entertainment factor outweighs any detriment.

There is always room for alternate histories, and The Twentieth Century takes this revisionism to a dizzying extreme. With its symbolic cacti, absurdist storytelling, and clear references to Canadian history, this feels a markedly contemporary take on a timeless political tradition of ineptitude.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Dan Beirne, Mikhaïl Ahooja, Catherine Saint-Laurent, Sarianne Cormier, Brent Skagford

DIRECTOR: Matthew Rankin

WRITER: Matthew Rankin

SYNOPSIS: This satirical and anarchic fantasy biopic explores the tribulations of a young Canadian politician running for prime minister.