QCFF Review: 'A Colony' Is 'Eighth Grade' Without the Redemptive Cuteness Directed by Geneviève Dulude-De Celles
Starring Émilie Bierre, Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie, Robin Aubert, Irlande Côté, Noémie Godin-Vigneault, Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier
Published Sep 19, 2018Une Colonie (A Colony) begins, rather bleakly, with a group of hens pecking one of their own to death. Later, teenager Mylia (Émilie Bierre) explains the incident to her precocious younger sister Camille (Irlande Côté), saying that it's the natural order for the strong to pick off the weak.
That's the cruel social principal Une Colonie operates under. Much like this year's acclaimed Eighth Grade, the film is about the many cringe-inducing moments an awkward kid faces when she enters high school for the first time. Unlike Eighth Grade, however, there are no cute webcam videos and no doting father. Instead, there's just racism and rainbow parties. (Maybe I had a prudish adolescence, but I'm pretty sure the latter is an urban legend, not the grim reality presented here.)
All this takes place in small-town Quebec, where Mylia attempts to move past a history of being bullied by striking up a friendship with her older classmate Jacinthe (Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier) — a bad influence who gives Mylia alcohol and encourages her to hook up with a shitty dude. Home doesn't provide much respite; Camille is cute but clingy, and the parents' relationship is falling apart. In regards to the metaphor about the flock of hens, it feels a lot like Mylia is the weak member of the flock who's getting pecked to death by her peers.
Mylia finds some comfort in her bond with Jimmy (Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie), an artsy outcast who lives with his grandmother on a local Indigenous reserve. It's with his character that the film attempts to tackle a larger social issue: Jimmy is at the centre of a classroom argument during a lesson about Canada's colonial past, and although the film hints at the flaws of the Euro-centric version of history, the debate ends in a fistfight rather than a sufficient counterpoint.
Making matters murkier, Jimmy uses a homophobic slur during the fight and later slut-shames Mylia for her Halloween costume. As such, it's hard to accept him as a refreshing alternative to the popular crowd as he's presented.
The performances are all impeccable, particularly the delightful Irlande Côté, and the depiction of high school is every bit as harrowing and realistic as intended. If this were simply a movie about how mortifying it is to try to fit in at school, it would be a slam dunk. But when it comes to exploring sensitive issues like reconciliation and slut-shaming, the harsh language of teenage bullies isn't always the best way to get the point across. (Colonelle Films/Funfilm)