When it came out last year, The Good Lie was supposed to be Philippe Falardeau's ticket to the Hollywood fast track, where he could bring his unique directorial vision to mainstream flicks alongside fellow Quebecois filmmakers-turned-studio-darlings Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild) and Denis Villeneuve (Sicario). Despite great reviews, though, the Reese Witherspoon drama died a small death last fall, mostly because of a poor marketing campaign.
Before returning to the United States, though, Falardeau came back home to film the political comedy My Internship in Canada, a charming film focusing on fictional Quebec MP Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard), who finds himself holding the deciding vote over whether the country goes to war. Falardeau spoke with The Globe and Mail while promoting the film at last month's Toronto International Film Festival.
What was it like coming back to Quebec after filming The Good Lie?
Right now it's a balance for me. Writing films takes time – it takes me three years to write a script, which is too slow for a person my age. I want to practise what I do, so I have more opportunities coming in from the U.S. in terms of scripts I haven't written, and as long as they make sense to me, I'll keep doing them. But it was fun going back home and shooting in my own language with people I know.
Canada doesn't have too many political comedies. It's not like the United States, where there's been Primary Colors, Wag the Dog and dozens of others. Do you think we're too hesitant to make fun of our leaders?
On television, English Canada has done its fair share, with Air Farce or This Hour Has 22 Minutes. In films, though, Canada is just not a major player on the international scene. When you make a comedy film in the U.S., there's something at stake because the U.S. is one of the most powerful countries on Earth, so the film has to make sense not only for Americans but for the rest of the world. In Canada, we're a country that's known for just being friendly.
I think it's also because we're so large geographically that it's difficult to find something to talk about that makes sense for everyone from Newfoundland to Vancouver. I've tried to steer away from contemporary issues and just deal with the mechanics of democracy and how we've become cynical of our politicians.
You have Paul Doucet play a very Stephen Harper-like prime minister here. It's interesting, as he's a figure who hasn't been mocked on the big screen before.
It's a tough balance, because you want to talk about what Harper represents, but you don't want to make him a clown. I think he's hijacked a lot of Canadian values, but he's intelligent, he's clever, he's a father, he's a human being, he plays the guitar. So that makes him a complex character. He's the bad guy here, but I didn't want to make him into Darth Vader.
It's a combination of, yes, we have a prime minister who has been doing stuff I don't agree with, but regardless of that, he represents what politics has become, which is all about navigating and manipulating and trading influences.
There's an edge to him, but it doesn't feel cynical.
No, and that balance is tough. I wanted to use satire but I didn't want the film to become cynical. Ultimately, I want to say that we have become too cynical, both politicians and us, because we have lost confidence in the system, and we are only thinking about ourselves. I have a shotgun as a director and I aim it at everything that moves, including my own position, which is left-wing. I would certainly not support a war, but then again, the person who takes that stance in the film [the MP's daughter] is green and naive. And I also take a shot at the peace-lovers.
A lot of people in Europe told me the film takes a very dark view of democracy because Guibord doesn't get to vote against the war in the end, so what does he have left? Well, he has a new friendship with [his Haitian intern Souverain], a friendship that is cross-border, cross-racial. Politically, it's not an optimistic movie. But human-wise, it is.
Through the character of Souverain and his discussions with his family back in Haiti, we get a democracy tutorial. Did you always have that narrative device in mind?
The first idea was just an MP with a swing vote, but where do you go with that? I read an article a while ago with Woody Allen explaining that if you find a good idea for a film, it's always a trap. One idea can get you half an hour of story. You need a second idea, so mine was exploring a point of view. This intern knows more about our own politics than we do, so let's work with that. And the third idea was having him Skype reports back to his family in Haiti, who become the Greek chorus.
The timing of the movie couldn't be better, of course.
Or worse. What do you think?
I think people are going to be engaged with the topic.
They'll be fed up, though, no? It's the longest election in the history of Canada.
But compared to, say, an election stateside, it's a fraction of the time.
True. I am curious to think what MPs think of the film. I'm sure people around Harper will see it. I just hope someone will ask him if he saw the film. I don't think he'll be offended.
You don't make him look like a dweeb.
Yes, he's certainly not a moron here. That was important. I tried to respect the institution.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
My Internship in Canada is now playing in Ottawa. It opens Oct. 23 in Toronto and Kingston, and Oct. 30 in London, Ont.