“Based on true events that have not happened yet, but will happen soon.”
This tidbit opens the quirky and heartfelt political satire My Internship in Canada aka Guibord S’en Va-T-En Guerre. For those who keep an update on Canadian politics, it’s not that hard to imagine this story happening in the near future. Written and directed by Academy award nominee Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar), the film centres on an independent MP left with a swing vote for a morally complicated decision. Having studied politics and international affairs, Falardeau delivers a grounded and clear understanding of Canadian politics, mocking politicians with grace. Being a great storyteller, he also provides a human story about a man trying to figure out what is the right thing to do and the people around him who guide him.
Guibord of the French title is Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard); a former hockey star turned independent MP. After scoring a winning goal against the Russian team for the Canadian team, Guibord had a contract with the Blackhawks. But due to Guibord’s fear of flying, his contract was cancelled. Now he holds an office over a lingerie store, representing a small section of Quebec. His job usually consists of banal jobs including planting a tree for a gazebo. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister (Paul Doucet) puts his plan to send troops to the Middle East with his project “Canada for Freedom.” And then the troubles begin. A roadblock prevents Guibord from delivering the tree due to the Algonquin tribe protesting logging on their land. The loggers are pissed they’re prevented from doing their jobs. To make matters worse, Guibord finds out the Canada for Freedom vote is tied and he is the swing vote for the proposal. With advocates on both sides crowding him from all sides, including his wife Suzanne (Suzanne Clement) and his daughter Lune (Clemence Dufresne-Deslieres), Guibord is forced to step up and make a complicated decision.
Though the film centres on Guibord’s dilemma, the true star is his intern Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus). An immigrant from Haiti, Souverain comes to the job with textbook knowledge of Canadian politics, an eager enthusiasm for the job and an obsession with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And all the while, he broadcasts a lesson in Canadian politics to his friends and family at Port-au-Prince. But as he further reports on his boss’s progress, Souverain’s Skype call gain increase attention among local Haitians at home until they are filling a whole room to watch. Exantus’ performance has a beaming and intelligent enthusiasm so warm and inviting you’d wish he was your friend.
From the opening line, the film delivers on the laughs in a variety of forms. The first are the quirky characters surrounding Guibord and Souverain. There’s the prime minister, who seems to spend more time playing musical instruments than running the country. There’s the Algonquin chief, who types on his laptop while chained to a tree. Even Souverain’s friends in Haiti have their own quirkiness, especially Souverain’s overprotective mother, who warns him not to get involved in any assassinations. Falardeau takes aim at both sides with equal satirical precision, whether it’s the loggers portrayed as bad tempered and bitter to the peace protesters reading pretentious poetry and leaving a room when a professor argues for war.
At the same time, Falardeau gives both sides a chance to have their say and the film listens with empathy. It terms of logging, it understands the Algonquins don’t want corporations bulldozing on their land and it understands the loggers just want to get to work and make a living. With the war, Lune doesn’t want people being sent to their deaths and Suzanne want to bring peace to other countries and further her husband’s career. It’s clear the director’s against the war, but he still keeps his distance to allow audiences to make their own decisions.
It certainly makes you understand why Guibord’s having a hard time deciding. Things get even more complicated when the Prime Minister proposes giving him a seat in Aboriginal Affairs in exchange for a yes vote. The strength of Huard’s performance is that Guibord is a nice guy who has never really been challenged in his life. He cares about both sides and he wants to make the decision that will benefit people the most. You can feel his strain as each side makes a good point in their favour. What doesn’t work as well is Clement’s performance, which comes off as a stereotypical nag. Clement has given great performances in Laurence Anyways and Mommy, but she spends most of the film hen pecking her husband. Why are so many wives written as chronic nags?
Political satire is a challenging genre to portray on film. The writer has to have a clear understanding of the subject he/she want to talk about. At the same time, the subject must never get in the way of a good story. The director will most likely prefer one side of the issue, but be able to regard both sides with equal mockery and empathy. The film can be about politics, but it must never let the politics get in the way of a good story. My Internship in Canada meets this challenge head on and comes out on top with a human story of a good man faced with a complicated decision. As he did with the inspiration teacher trope in Monsieur Lazhar, He takes a classic genre and makes it feel new and engaging. Another challenge with satire is whether or not it will hold up years later. Though only time will tell, I’m pretty sure it has a chance.