Ross Murray: A Review of Canada – The Movie

Ross Murray: A Review of Canada – The Movie

LiQM_Mar2017_CoverThis column first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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A Review of Canada: The Movie

By Ross Murray

If you’ve read the entertainment press, you know all about the troubles behind the scenes of Canada: The Movie. A British-French coproduction, the film was hampered from the start by infighting, accusations by the natives of mistreatment, terrible weather and beavers. At one point, Americans tried and failed to take over production, and there were at least two on-set rebellions. And this was all before filming began.

One hundred and fifty years later, we have our first look at what’s being billed as a combination drama-comedy-political-improv-documentary, a sort of Spinal Tap meets Dances With Wolves meets Merchant Ivory with Mounties. So, after such a tumultuous beginning, how did it all turn out?

As we Canadians would say: pretty good.

Things, however, don’t get off to a promising start. Canada: The Movie opens with the longest scenes of trade talks since Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. And with Prime Minister John A. MacDonald’s accent as inscrutable as Jar Jar Binks’, prospects feel as bleak as the winter landscape and the history of Canadian sitcoms.

And then it’s trains, trains, more trains and trees. The viewer is left to wonder, is this an allegory for the quest for identity in a godless wilderness? Or is Canada: The Movie just boring?

At first, it falls on only four provinces to carry this lumbering plot, none of them particularly dynamic, although Québec demonstrates a certain joie de vivre and Nova Scotia at least offers up some decent fiddling. Eventually, other provinces join in, but with mixed results: Saskatchewan comes off flat, while Alberta gives a rocky performance. Thank goodness for Newfoundland and Labrador, who, despite their late and somewhat reluctant appearance, do liven things up with a few jokes.

We keep hoping these characters will add up to something. For example, when we’re finally introduced to Nunavut, the viewer senses that this film might be breaking new territory. But then it sadly remains frozen.

That’s the thing with Canada: The Movie – there’s a lot going on, but nothing seems to happen. For example, we hear about many tremendous war sequences, but they all occur off-screen. With the exception of one Halifax explosion, the pyrotechnics are few and far between. Even the romance is subdued. There’s a love scene, true, but it takes place in a canoe – difficult, and even less sexy than it sounds.

As the film proceeds into its final reel, there’s an increased reliance on subtitles, a decision that could annoy and alienate many viewers.

Yet somehow it all works. The film is incredibly likable. In fact, it desperately wants to be liked, constantly seeking validation, especially from foreign audiences. Such neediness should be off-putting, but Canada pulls it off, thanks to moments of patriotic fervour that unify the film and demonstrate that Canada can be as obnoxiously nationalistic as any other country.

For instance, there is a scene in which a Canadian hockey team wins a game against a Russian hockey team. This episode is played over and over and over, yet no one seems to tire of it, let alone point out that it’s just a hockey game.

In a subsequent scene, a one-legged man attempts to hobble across the country from coast to coast. He fails. Yet he is paradoxically hailed as a hero and remains the emotional heart of the film.

At one point, a character declares, “The 20th century belongs to Canada!” As it turns out, Canada only borrows the 20th century. This, in essence, is Canada: The Movie. It’s a movie about some nice, polite people, a nation of failed heroes strangely fixated on health care, coffee shops and The Tragically Hip, a people who get things done without making a big deal about it, a people secretly smug in their hearts. Despite its many flaws, Canada somehow works. It’s a film that cries out, “Just watch me.”

Canada: The Movie will be aired in its entirety on CBC Television forever.


About Author

Ross Murray

Ross Murray is an award-winning humorist and radio contributor and the author of two books ‘You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?’ and ‘Don’t Everyone Jump at Once’. Raised in Nova Scotia, Ross has lived in the Eastern Townships of Quebec since the early 1990’s with his wife Debbie, four children and far too many pets. After all this time, Ross feels comfortable calling himself a Townshipper; his neighbours call him something else.

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