We review Philippe Falardeau’s hilarious political satire My Internship in Canada, which was selected as one of Canada’s Top Ten Films of 2015. Read our interview with director Falardeau here.
My Internship in Canada is now available on DVD and VOD in Canada.
What could be more Canadian than a political farce about a former hockey player-turned-MP from small-town Quebec who suddenly finds himself in a political quandary? Looking to his constituents for help with how to vote on an issue of foreign policy, he finds they’re more concerned with local issues at home than Canada at war abroad. Such is the premise of Phillipe Falardeau’s new side-splittingly funny and playful My Internship in Canada.
The politician is Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard, a kind of Canadian Dany Boon), an independent MP who left the Liberal party years ago over disputes about aboriginal rights. Guibord’s day-to-day life as a politician involves attending spaghetti dinners, celebrating fiftieth anniversaries, and teaching the local Algonquin boys how to play hockey. When faced with a historic vote on whether or not to go to war, he declares he’ll abstain, in an effort to avoid family conflict. His wife is vehemently pro-war and his grown daughter is just as strongly against it. Then he discovers he holds the decisive vote.
The main action of the film opens on the sign for Guibord’s campaign office, panning down to the storefront where it’s housed: a lingerie shop. Guibord’s new intern hopeful Souverain (Irdens Exantus) dragging his suitcase across the frame for his meeting with the M.P. Guibord thinks it’s just an interview, but Souverain has come to stay: his Haitian family have spent every spare penny on his trip. Guibord wonders why Souverain chose to come to the Prescott-Makadewà-Rapides-aux-Outardes riding. It isn’t exactly a political hotbed. It turns out Guibord was the only one to respond to the 15-page application Souverain sent to every MP. Guibord is forced to take him on, unaware of just how instrumental Souverain will be as his “spin doctor.”
Shortly after Souverain arrives in Canada and settles into his new apartment — complete with moose figurines — the prime minister (Paul Doucet, playing a Conservative PM who is definitely not Stephen Harper except for resembling him in every way) calls for a vote to send our troops into some unspecified war. With characteristic subtlety, he dubs the bill “Canada for Freedom.” “Our Prime Minister may seem limp and flabby,” Guibord’s daughter explains to Souverain, “but he’s a dangerous fascist.” This dangerous fascist speaks broken French, takes eerily forced family portraits, and frequently forces guests to listen to him play Scarlatti on the piano before a meeting. The line is even funnier now that a similar PM has been booted out of office in real life.
When one Conservative M.P. abstains, Guibord suddenly finds himself with the decisive vote. Unsure how to deal with this politically volatile situation, Souverain suggests that it’s a great opportunity for “direct democracy”: he’ll consult his constituents and then decide. But as the prime minister later notes, “Winston Churchill once said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Good luck.” The locals only want to discuss road blocks, first by the Algonquins protesting logging on their ancestral lands, and then by the truckers in retaliation. Adding insult to injury, a bus of pacifists from Winnipeg shows up to try to persuade everyone to give peace a chance.
Although Souverain is here to learn about Canadian politics, he ends up acting as Guibord’s lead political strategist. Equipped with the works of Rousseau and other political philosophers, Souverain frequently quotes these thinkers when he’s not reading them aloud to Guibord. At the first press conference after it’s been announced that Guibord has the decisive vote, when Guibord finds himself at a loss for words, Souverain prompts him with what to say — something he does more and more as the film progresses. As Guibord becomes increasingly dependent on Souverain’s quick thinking and diplomatic turns of phrase, Souverain also starts to take things into his own hands. He even leaks information to the press without asking for permission, in order to help Guibord.
On his off hours, Souverain Skypes with his family to enlighten them on the political situation in Canada. It’s funny for us to hear his idealistic, outsider perspective, and it’s also useful for advancing the plot. Near the beginning of the film, he explains our electoral system using a map and a wooden spoon. Once he finds himself at the epicenter of Canadian politics, his following at the local Haitian internet cafe grows from his family members to an entire community, watching with bated breath to see what Guibord will do next. The Haitians have the habit of doing their research on Canadian politics on Wikipedia before asking Souverain about his next tactical move. There are also plenty of jokes about the politeness of Canadian politics. Guibord must cast the decisive vote, but “what if he’s assassinated first?” “That doesn’t happen in Canada.”
The quips and comedic business in My Internship in Canada happen at a mile-a-minute, and it’s all so specifically Canadian. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is supposed to be carried out by a person with Parkinson’s holding giant scissors. Souverain complains at his interview about how Canadian history textbooks skirt the issue that the aboriginals were living here long before the French and English discovered the land; Guibord just stares blankly at him. Guibord has to correct a trucker that it’s a “Wigwam. Teepees are 3000 km west.” And at one point, Guibord declares, “It’s OK! I’ll canoe to Parliament!”
Falardeau crafts much of the comedy around how people pop in and out of the frame and their position in the frame. The ever-optimistic and just-glad-to-be-here Souverain is usually right at the centre, looking straight into the lens, as Falardeau pokes fun at his impassioned sincerity. Guibord repeatedly photobombs the Skype frame when Souverain is talking to people at home: they’re so excited, they cheer as soon as he appears. They’ve become more invested in Canadian politics than most of the film’s Canadians.
Although the film is still about a white male member of parliament, it’s impressively progressive. The film initially suggests that Guibord is incompetent, but we soon learn that he’s got a nuanced understanding of the issues, and is the rare politician who fights for the First Nations. His wife (Suzanne Clément) is supportive but she’s also humourously combative and self-possessed: they’re a realistic couple in love, and we get why they’re such a great match.
Perhaps most radically, the film’s political conflict revolves around how to best represent the First Nations in Parliament. should Guibord sell his soul to the devil to become the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs? It would mean real power and the ability to make a real difference, but he’d have to vote against what he really believes. The film addresses very real issues in Canadian politics with a light touch, which might even rejuvenate interest in our country’s under-served and under-represented aboriginal population when apathy has become widespread. It’s even a timely reminder of the Liberals’ weaknesses on First Nations rights. Also, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun.