Mapleleaves, Hockey and Movies

There are aspects of Canadian culture we ruefully admit to–hockey, parkas, iced brewskies, and yet we still bemoan the idea that Canada has no culture, that we’re just Americans who know how to dress in layers. Douglas Coupland has spent a good deal of his life running from his nationality, but with the release of his coffee table/art book Souvenir of Canada, he embraced and really rummaged through his past to find what made his being a Canadian more than just dressing for the weather.

The movie adaptation of a coffee table book is a tricky undertaking. There tends to be little story between the covers, so the challenge becomes how to get the message across without merely being an hour long family slide show.

Director Robin Neinstein chose not to look at the objects, but at the way they were chosen, following Coupland while he prepares for Canada House, a combination of installation art and scrapbooking. The method behind Coupland’s flawless decisions is labyrinthine at times, but the path for the movie is clear, revealing the underlying message in Coupland’s work.

Behind every little object in your bedroom or living room is a story. Whether it’s the cringe-worthy wood paneling in your parents’ den or the stack of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em videos that your jock cousin brings out for a hockey fix, there’s always a common thread. We may not have the same memories or even the same memory-anchor objects, but there’s always that same confused sensation of embarrassment, pride and bewilderment. The film details how Coupland wasn’t trying to understand the origins of Canada’s visual culture, but instead shows that in developing Canada House, he accepted it outright.

As the white-washed, mid-century suburban Canada House is filled with everything from ookpiks to beer cans to a lovely print of Terry Fox’s sock, you can see Coupland’s half smile behind the objects. You can hear a mirthless laugh behind his narration–his big, dead-serious inside joke with the audience.

At times Coupland steals the show as if there is no one but him in the production. Then, right next to one of his overpowering monologues or elbow-nudging jokes is a beautiful example of great filmaking that can only be credited to director Robin Neinstein. The great white expanses of the Yukon, archive footage placed for perfect illustration, reenactments so charming and clever it takes the audience off gaurd. It’s thanks to Neinstein that Souvenir of Canada could be mistaken for one very long, untiring music video–if Coupland was 10 years younger with shaggier hair–for Broken Social Scene or The New Pornographers (both of whom appear on the soundtrack).

The memories of how difficult it is to draw the Canadian flag, home footage of fishing trips and an effective documentary style instill a feeling of nostalgia, even for those things we have yet to lose. Souvenir of Canada addresses the widely-held Canadian fears of losing what little identity we have and the yearning for advancement. It insists that we should be proud not only of our flannel and wool, but of everything underneath and around them as well.

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