“What would Jean-Jacques Rousseau do?”
Political satires often tend to be dark and sharp-edged; but this little comedy is a kinder, gentler political movie, which nevertheless manages to comment effectively and amusingly on how democratic governments work. It displays the contrast between political ideals and day-to-day realities of government, and the comical dilemmas that can be faced by a good man trying to genuinely represent his constituents. The film, made and set in Quebec and mostly in French, is distinctly Canadian but its theme can apply to any Western nation. It’s also much funnier than the plot description makes it sound.
Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard) is a Member of Parliament for a remote rural region of Quebec designated Prescott-Makadewa-Rapides-aux-Outardes, a heavily forested area with such a sparse population, the riding is over 75,000 km2. Elected partly on the strength of his previous career as a professional hockey player, he manages his small, uncomplicated domain conscientiously, but never expects to have more required of him than to serve as referee for local disputes and attend the openings of town gazebos.
The story begins when Guibord takes on, mostly by mistake, an intern assistant from Haiti, Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus), an idealistic young man who is well read in politics, both Canadian and international, but has no practical experience. Souverain follows Guibord as he goes about his local duties, while attempting to acclimatise to the unfamiliar place and people.
Guibord’s peaceful career is disrupted when he becomes the single deciding vote on a military action proposed by his hawkish and paranoid Prime Minister. Suddenly he is forced out of his comfortable unimportance, appears on national news reports, and is harangued by pro and con pressure groups, along with his own wife and daughter. Unwilling to take sides and disappoint anyone, Guibord finds a third option when Souverain suggests he ask for a mandate from the people he represents.
This approach leads to a muddle of assemblies and public protests, special interest groups doing their best to sway popular opinion in the riding, as Guibord’s vote is courted and he tries to cope with the unfamiliar experience of serious politics. The Prime Minister even offers Guibord a coveted ministerial position in return for his vote, recommending Guibord follow his own preferred approach of pretending to take his constituents’ concerns seriously: “I call it listen and nod.”
Souverain’s guidance becomes genuinely useful at this point, as his rarefied education provides Guibord with strategies, insights, and impressive sounding quotes to repeat to the media. With Souverain’s help, Guibord finds his way through the maze of political maneuvers without compromising his integrity.
Throughout these events, Souverain has been holding regular Skype sessions with his family in Haiti. As the situation in Canada receives more media attention, others begin to attend and listen in, until half Souverain’s neighbourhood is present for his regular updates on the situation in Canada, offering analysis, debating strategy, and speculating on the likelihood of an assassination attempt. These conferences provide us with a tongue-in-cheek commentary on events as they transpire, from an entirely outside perspective.
Going to War… is clearly intended for Canadian audiences, and some of its humour may depend on references unfamiliar to viewers outside Canada. The film’s Prime Minister, for example, clearly meant as a parody of former Canadian PM Stephen Harper, was found hysterically funny by Canadian audiences, but might not be as well received elsewhere. There are also minor, passing references which are decidedly ‘inside’ jokes. For the most part, though, the film’s satire applies to any and every democratic system. This film can be enjoyed and laughed at almost anywhere.