A Colony | Une Colonie (2019)

March 16th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Geneviève Dulude-De Celles | Cast: Émilie Bierre, Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie, Robin Aubert, Irlande Côté, Noémie Godin-Vigneault, Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier

Life isn’t easy, as two sisters soon find out in this impressionistic French Canadian coming-of-age drama about teenage angst and sibling rivalry in the outskirts of Quebec. The film also deftly raises the more provocative profile of Canada’s colonial past, without making a meal of it.

It all begins when the youngest girl Camille (Irlande Côté) sees a chicken being pecked to death in the field behind the family’s new home. She is visibly upset by the animal’s suffering, but rather than offering sympathy and support, her new school friends mock and taunt her for her sensitivity towards animals. Later, her older sister Mylia (Émilie Bierre) explains it away as ‘the law of the jungle’. And this metaphor plays out as the delicately drawn story unfolds.

Ironically Mylia emerges as the more introspective of the two girls, discovering boys in her new school and experimenting with clothes and make-up. Looking a bit like a teenage Dakota Johnson, Bierre is convincing as the diffident teen who strikes up a rapport with a slightly older school friend Jacinthe (Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier) — who encourages her to push the boundaries with alcohol and boyfriends. But Mylia’s not quite ready for all this and finds her thrills in other directions. Soon she meets Jimmy (Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie), a thoughtful and creative boy who lives with his grandmother in a local Indigenous community, and through whose character the director touches on Canada’s Euro-centric view of history in a feisty classroom encounter.

With remarkable performances from its young cast, particularly the two sisters, Une Colonie doesn’t try to find easy or schematic ways of portraying growing up, and shows that teenage fun doesn’t have to rely on rampant sex and drugs, especially when home life is unsettled and bewildering. Instead, she offers a poetic riff on so-called ‘rainbow parties’, classroom antics,  and amorous encounters, showing how girls really think, talk and interact at this adolescent time of life. And there are some genuinely moving scenes throughout this cinema vérité gem. An easy-going score of contempo beats and some glowing camerawork completes this teen arthouse package which is suitable for audiences of 13 upwards.

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