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Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the ’70s Generation

First-time helmer Catherine Annau is nothing if not ambitious with "Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the '70s Generation," which attempts to come to grips with the political and social legacy of long-serving Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Unfortunately the resulting docu has a hard time maintaining its focus, and the lack of coherent structure dilutes its impact. The film garnered an enormous amount of local media coverage during its launch at the Montreal Film Festival and subsequent screening at the Toronto fest, where it won the City-TV Award for best Canadian first feature. But "Just Watch Me" remains essentially a tube item. It will likely draw strong auds when it airs later this year on pubcaster CBC and its sister French-language web, Radio Canada. International buyers, however, will likely be less enthralled with this all-Canuck docu.

First-time helmer Catherine Annau is nothing if not ambitious with “Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the ’70s Generation,” which attempts to come to grips with the political and social legacy of long-serving Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Unfortunately the resulting docu has a hard time maintaining its focus, and the lack of coherent structure dilutes its impact. The film garnered an enormous amount of local media coverage during its launch at the Montreal Film Festival and subsequent screening at the Toronto fest, where it won the City-TV Award for best Canadian first feature. But “Just Watch Me” remains essentially a tube item. It will likely draw strong auds when it airs later this year on pubcaster CBC and its sister French-language web, Radio Canada. International buyers, however, will likely be less enthralled with this all-Canuck docu.

The film does not purport to examine all of Trudeau’s policies, but zeroes in on his dream of turning Canada into a truly bilingual country. Pic is built around lengthy interviews with eight thirtysomething Canadians from both sides of the linguistic/cultural fence, all of whom were deeply affected by Trudeau’s drive to build a nation fluent in both French and English. Doug Garson talks about going to French school in Winnipeg, while Jocelyne Perrier recounts how she grew up in an environment full of committed Quebec separatists.

In some ways, the docu is really about the relationship between Montreal and the rest of the country. Toronto public affairs consultant John Duffy always believed Montreal was a place where folks drank like fish and had sex all day. The Quebeckers, on the other hand, were brought up with equally far-fetched cliches about English Canada and how monolithic it was.

One of the film’s problems is that Annau doesn’t acknowledge the deep antipathy toward Trudeau on the part of a large section of today’s French-Canadian population. Academic adviser Andre Gobeil mentions that he fell out with Trudeau at the tail end of his tenure in office, but his mild-mannered comments hardly reflect the ferocious bitterness so many Quebeckers feel regarding the former prime minister.

Pic really stumbles in its discussion of the 1995 Quebec referendum, in which nearly half the province voted in favor of sovereignty for Quebec. Annau assumes that there is a direct link between the referendum trauma and Trudeau’s dream of a bilingual Canada — a questionable thesis at best and a leap of logic that is not well explained. Docu makes few illuminating points about the Trudeau generation and too often reverts to rather tired images of the nation’s two cultures.

“Just Watch Me” does boast some nifty editing and image juxtaposition, keeping the docu lively visually. Good use is made of Canuck pop in both official languages, with tracks by the Stampeders, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Beau Dommage.

Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the '70s Generation

(DOCU -- CANADIAN)

Production: A National Film Board of Canada production. (International sales: National Film Board of Canada, Montreal.) Produced by Gerry Flahive, Yves Bisaillon. Executive producer, Louise Lore. Directed by Catherine Annau.

Crew: Camera (color), Ronald Plante; editor, Craig Webster; music, the Stampeders, Bachman-Turner Overdrive; Leonard Cohen, Robert Charlebois, Beau Dommage; sound, Andre Boisvert. Reviewed on videocassette, Montreal, Sept. 2, 1999. (In World Film Festival, Montreal --- Panorama Canada; Toronto Film Festival --- Perspective Canada.) Running time: 77 MIN.

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