First Stripes | Premieres Armes * * * (2018) | Berlinale 2018

February 20th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Jean-Francois Caissy; Documentary; Canada 208, 106 min.

After visiting a care home for the elderly (La Belle Visite), Canadian documentarian Jean-Francois Caissy turns his camera on those starting out in life: young recruits embarking on a 12-week training course for the Canadian Army share their hopes and aims with the director in this informative film.

Some have joined up personal reasons – one young man had promised his father on his dead bed that he would join the Army – but most men are looking for a new challenge. In common with other armies, the Canadian Force is not just about combat training, soldiers can train in engineering and and medicine. Women recruits are still a minority in the challenging male dominated environment, and men are kept firmly under control, although one female recruit talks about the verbal “disrespect”, she encountered. Most of the training is spent teaching males basic hygiene. They don’t seemed to have learnt how to wash their bed linen or clothes. They also lie blatantly about the use of their mobiles outside the prescribed hours. All in all, they come over as immature and hopelessly egocentric. The instructors constantly adopt new ways of making them grow up – but it’s a difficult task.

The women are, on the whole, very serious. One phones her young child regularly, telling the father how privileged he is to be spending every day with his son. Another is delighted to be told  “that she is ready for a great adventure”, at the end of the course. Her instructor also mentions -bizarrely – how ‘inanely’ suited she is to a military career. One man gives combat training the thumbs down and does not want to be talked into joining the fighting unit, although he is eminently suited – he prefers to stay with the non-combat unit he had chosen at the start. There is a plan amongst some of the instructors to “turn back to the 80s style of training”. But by the end it’s clear that the Canadian Army is at home in the 21st century; most of the conflict is banal and the overall tone is very civilised – like Canadian society as a whole.

Caissy mixes training drills with close-up camerawork, and DoP Nicolas Canniccioni familiarises us with the recruits’ faces, with lingering shots and clear framing. First Stripes is a sober but absorbing portrait of modern army training that avoids any sensationalism. AS


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