SOUVENIR OF CANADA
STARRING Douglas Coupland and a bunch of Canadian artifacts
DIRECTED BY Robin Neinstein
Opens Friday, June 23
Based on Douglas Couplands coffee-table tribute to this great land of ours, Souvenir of Canada is a trivia-packed love letter to the popular authors homeland. And while it may be one of the hipper looking documentaries to come out of the National Film Board of late, its also problematic. Not that the film isnt a good idea, but Souvenir of Canada quickly shows the difference between intent and content.
I suppose I could claim, like most cranky readers, that the movie just isnt as good as the book, but in the realm of non-fiction, I doubt that criticism applies. For the print version of this story, Coupland wanted to compile and photograph an inventory of things that defined this nation, but that resonated specifically with Canadians. For the purpose of the film, director Robin Neinstein follows Coupland around as he transforms a home into an installation exhibit called "Canada House." He hopes to take a quintessentially Canadian residence, fill it with quintessentially Canadian artifacts and invite people to see it before the house is eventually demolished. This artists journey is punctuated by Couplands personal insights into Canada and how growing up north of the border influenced him.
While Im a big fan of Couplands literary voice, I cant say the same of his speaking voice. In that respect, having him narrate this documentary is a considerable liability. For the most part he comes off as disinterested and slightly irritable (except for those times when he comes off as patronizing and insincere wow, thats a great combo). While that may perfectly mirror most of my junior high social studies teachers, thats not what I am looking for in a narrator.
Admittedly, Coupland is full of fascinating tidbits (the highlights of which are learning what "Ookpik" is and what "chemo" means), but since the bulk of the film concerns him working on the exhibit, Souvenir of Canada often feels like nothing more than a special Canuck version of Trading Spaces. Sure, with the help of the New Pornographers Carl Newman, the music is better, but that really isnt saying much.
Yeah, I found the film boring does that make me a bad patriot? Maybe. Shouldnt the film get points for trying to establish a Canadian identity outside the realm of beer commercials? Of course it should. Can I think of better ways to spend an hour and 10 minutes? You bet.