'My Internship in Canada' ('Guibord s'en va-t-en guerre'): Locarno Review

Courtesy of Festival del Film Locarno
A little bit of a lot of things but never its own thing.

'Monsieur Lazhar' director Philippe Falardeau teams up with 'Starbuck' lead Patrick Huard for this tame French-Canadian political comedy.

An unsuspecting Member of Parliament from rural Quebec finds himself thrust into the national spotlight when he learns his vote will decide whether Canada will go to war in My Internship in Canada (Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre), the new film from French-Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau (the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar, the Reese Witherspoon vehicle The Good Lie). Often broad and occasionally a little musty, this film, with one of the most unappealing and misleading English-language titles in recent memory, is a little bit of a lot of things -- an ambitious political satire, a low-brow local comedy, a brittle family drama, a finger-on-the-pulse look at contemporary Canada… -- but never really its own thing. After its Piazza Grande premiere in Locarno and a national premiere at Toronto, Internship could be a decent performer at home, where it bows Oct. 2nd, though it won’t get too much traction as a theatrical item elsewhere.

Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard, the star of Quebec hit Starbuck) is a somewhat milquetoast-y independent politician who represents a vast, fictional district of the belle province. As the representative of his constituency -- and also because he has a fear of flying you just know will end up playing a role in the film’s climax -- Guibord ends up driving hundreds of miles to consult the will of the people in various town hall-style meetings when it turns out that, after a botched boob job of a female MP and all other politicians having already declared their intentions, it will come down to him to decide whether Canada will participate in a faraway war.  

A former hockey star who thought a life in rural government would give him more time with his garden center-running wife, Suzanne (Suzanne Clement, from Xavier Dolan’s Mommy), and opinionated teenage daughter, Lune (Clemence Dufresne-Deslieres), Guibord is so clueless about politics he hires a -- what else? -- 22-year-old intern from Haiti called “Sovereign” (Souverain in French, and played by Irdens Exantus), who more often than not provides his boss with basic political ideas gleaned from reading the likes of Rousseau, though, unfortunately, neither of them turns into a Chauncey Gardiner character.

Even apart from the fact that the English title suggests that the relentlessly cheerful Haitian is the protagonist -- when he’s really just a sidekick with no challenges to overcome whatsoever -- Sovereign is the film’s most problematic conception. Instead of using him to cast a foreign eye on national and regional politics, which would’ve broadened the film’s overseas appeal, he’s used as the butt of a couple of borderline racist jokes, like when he thinks pizza is a North American instead of an Italian dish, or he waves like crazy the one time he sees another black man in the street. Though the plot dictates he’s the smarter one about politics who needs to keep helping out the often-clueless protagonist, Falardeau somehow manages to make sure Sovereign never upstages the French-language title character in smarts. 

Cinematographer Ronald Plante makes good use of the many rural locations and his images contain one smart split-screen editing joke. While Martin Leon’s score tends to underline the comedy, the humor of the film, Falardeau’s first original screenplay since 2006’s Congorama, is often on the corny side, though not intelligently enough to suggest that this has to do with the fact the provinces often hobble behind larger metropolitan areas. The film thinks it is hilarious, for example, that the access to Steve the backwater politician’s office is through a lingerie boutique or that Steve always has to sleep on the floor because of his bad back. Antics such as these suggest some overly broad, crowd-pleasing relic from the 1980s, though the film’s stance on the Occident’s involvement in foreign wars or how governments might use faraway conflicts as a distraction from more pressing local issues feels very contemporary.

The strained family dynamics are credible, at least until the home front conveniently splits down the middle when it emerges his wife is pro-war and his daughter against, turning both of them into mouthpieces for ideas rather than actual people. Especially the Suzanne character suffers in this respect and the final resolution to the superimposed (inter)national, regional and familial divides is awkward and somewhat rushed. Falardeau’s light yet insightful touch with three-dimensional characters faced with larger-than-life problems, so evident in Monsieur Lazhar (which was based on a pre-existing play), is conspicuously absent here.

As if these mixed messages weren’t enough, the general tendency to be vague about the very things that are at stake -- Which war are we talking about? Where exactly is Steve's district? Is the film's Prime Minister (Paul Doucet), who talks just like current conservative premier Harper, supposed to represent someone in particular? -- makes it hard for audiences to take a vested interested in the final outcome of the vote or the fate of the characters.

Production companies: Micro Scope

Cast: Patrick Huard, Irdens Exantus, Clemence Dufresne-Deslieres, Suzanne Clement, Sonia Cordeau, Paul Doucet, Jules Philip, Robin Aubert, Micheline Lanctot

Writer-Director: Philippe Falardeau

Screenplay based on an idea by Andre Turpin and with the additional collaboration of Vincent Lannoo.

Producers: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw

Director of photography: Ronald Plante

Production designer: Andre-Line Beauparlant

Costume designer: Sopgie Lefebvre

Editor: Richard Comeau

Music: Martin Leon

Casting: Lucie Robitaille

Sales: Films Distribution

 

No rating, 108 minutes

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