REVIEW: A Colony (Une colonie)
dir. Geneviève Dulude-De Celles
2018 | Canada | 102 mins
A Colony (Une colonie), the honest, raw, funny, and heartbreaking first feature film by Canadian director Geneviève Dulude-De Celles, demands to be seen by viewers of all ages.
The coming-of-age film follows twelve year-old Mylia (Émilie Bierre) as she apprehensively enters high school, an hour away from her home in the Québec countryside. In this time of transition, Mylia becomes at odds with her younger sister Camille (Irlande Côté); while the sisters used to be inseparable, now Mylia distances herself from Camille as she tries to fit in with her classmates. She fails on her promise to teach Camille how to ride a two-wheel bike, and misses Camille’s birthday in favour of a Halloween party.
At school, Mylia befriends Jimmy, a young Abenaki boy who lives on a nearby reserve. One of their classmates expresses the desire to go on the reserve “to buy some cute moccasins, y’know, for slippers […] I’d nail the Pocahontas look.” Jimmy is bullied for being Indigenous, but ultimately does not feel the need to conform with his peers. Throughout the film, we see Mylia’s quiet anxiety as she fights to be an insider, but Jimmy challenges Mylia and encourages her to “draw outside the lines,” to be an outsider by choice.
A Colony is not short on metaphors — the film opens with Camille finding one of their chickens pecked to death. She tells Mylia it was because the chicken was weak and different, and says the same would have happened to her had she been an animal. We later learn of an incident at school, for which Mylia and Camille’s mother talked with the principal, that resulted in Mylia being bullied and shunned by her friends and classmates. We understand at once why she is so quiet, reserved, and anxious to fit in. It is that very pressure to conform that brings her to the climax of the film, where her new friends persuade her to lose her virginity to a boy who likes her.
The young actor who plays Camille is a standout. She is playful, annoying, wise, and extremely perceptive to everything that is happening around her. One’s heart aches at seeing her follow her older sister, wait for her to come home from school, and shout “You are the woman of my life!” The chemistry between the young actors is palpable, and they make a convincing pair of bickering, loving sisters.
A Colony (Une colonie) won the Crystal Bear award for Best Feature Film in Berlin Film Festival’s Generation competition, which is selected by a jury of children. It is necessary viewing for all Canadians, but especially young Canadians, as it deftly observes the damaging way Indigenous Peoples’ history and culture are taught in schools (the title “What to do with the Indigenous?” seen in a class History book is all too familiar), and how amidst the pressure to conform, individuality is not only beautiful, but it is the only way to be truly happy.
The film is carefully directed, deftly edited, beautifully shot, and the near lack of music throughout the film enhances the sharp sounds of the Québec wilderness, and the unbearable silence of loneliness in the most turbulent time of one’s life — high school.
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