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Being Canadian (2015)

by on 2015/08/30

Being Canadian (2015)

“This was interesting, if you find a crushing lack of clarity interesting.”

* * *

Perhaps you’re curious about Canadians (though this documentary suggests you’re not, at all). You probably won’t find your answers here, whatever they may be.

Or perhaps you are a Canadian yourself, hoping for a kind of closure, a definition, an explanation, a raison d’etre, something — anything — existential. Likewise you probably won’t find such substance here.

What you will find is a somewhat personal journey, intercut with celebrity interviews, more valuable for their amusement than deep insight.

The cross-country motif surfaces time and again in our media, from the travels of Terry Fox, through many films — including Goin’ Down the Road, Going the Distance, Hard Core Logo, On Their Knees, and One Week — to another strikingly similar piece, Let’s All Hate Toronto.

Like the latter’s “Mister Toronto”, writer/director/narrator Rob Cohen (Big Bang Theory) serves as our tour guide, documenting his journey from the Maritimes through to the west coast, with a detour through Toronto. Both are nearly mockumentaries in their tone, with less discovery than commentary. The interstitial clips and editorial voice itself are self-effacing, inconsistent, and sometimes self-contradictory, but never less than pleasantly amusing.

Further similarity can be found in their parallel observations, most notably that Toronto views the rest of Canada as the world views Canada as a whole. Which is to say that “views” means “barely notices”. Variously characterized in terms of ignorance, indifference, mystery, or uncaring, Canada is portrayed as an unrecognized player on the world’s stage, one with a passive aggressive bent in seeking attention.

This portrait is reflected in the approach of the video itself. It illustrates the “blank stare” quizzicality of non-Canadians, then communicates through clips featuring some of our best known personalities . . . best known outside of Canada, that is.

(Here you will not find the Tragically Hip, nor Bruce McDonald, Don McKellar, Sarah Polley, any national news anchors, or such insular celebrities as the cast of Corner Gas. Almost no Quebecois either.)

Whether intended or not, the uneasy balance of narcissism and appeals to the outside world does a reasonable job of reflecting the feature’s own themes.

And while I could quibble about those internationally famous Canadians missing from the interviews, or the lack of prominent Canada-boosters lending their insights, it’s great to see all of these people, spanning decades past, gathered together this way.

Be aware that our tour guide’s constant presence may be slightly distracting to some. At times it borders on needless vanity. While I enjoyed my impression of him, not everybody will. If his humour is not to your liking, you will find his journey less compelling. Like McDonald in Hard Core Logo 2, or Douglas Coupland in Souvenir of Canada, Being Canadian is very much filtered through Rob Cohen’s sensibilities. To be fair, early on he refers to it as “a home movie about my home”.

Its resolution feels forced, tacked on, and unconvincing to me, but the journey was one I stuck with and enjoyed. I might even watch it again just to catch every bit of the interviews. Despite its subject’s familiarity and various other misgivings, I’d still put Being Canada ahead of the satiric Canadian Conspiracy. It’s nothing profound, but it’s entertaining enough. It’s harmless navel-gazing, acceptable, competent, and fun.

* * *

Not rated

90 minutes

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