Une colonie [A Colony] (2018)

Une colonie
Director: Geneviève Dulude-De Celles
Writer: Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne, Geneviève Dulude-De Celles
Cast: Emilie Bierre, Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie, Irlande Côté, Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier, Leia Scott
Seen on: 31.8.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Mylia (Emilie Bierre) is a quiet teenager, spending most of her time with her sister Camille (Irlande Côté) and her chaotic family. Starting a new school means that Mylia has to figure out where she belongs – with popular Jacinthe (Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier) or with Jimmy (Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie) who is Abenaki, which makes him an outsider in his own community.

Une colonie is a nice coming-of-age film though I was hoping for a little more engagement with racism from the title and the fact that Jimmy is Indigenous. Still, I really liked it.

The film poster showing a close-up of Mylia (Emilie Bierre) looking into the distance.

Une colonie touches on racism not only in its title. There are some excellent scenes where the ubiquity and casualness of racism is shown with a simplicity that is very effective. The class reading deeply racist quotes from colonizers about Indigenous people, the white kids casually discussing the merit of said quotes, while Jimmy is about ready to explode out of his skin. The way Jacinthe objectifies the near-by reservation and its people. It’s short sequences and moments that show that colonialism, racism and white supremacy are part of the very fabric of Canada and far from over.

But those are just moments of the film. Ultimately, the film is much more about (white) Mylia and her growth. She realizes that the cool people are mean, and part of that meanness is their racism. Meanwhile, she finds welcome and kinship with Jimmy and his family. It’s a very white perspective on racism that the film takes here, filtering it through Mylia’s coming-of-age narrative. I’m sure your mileage will vary with regards to that POV. It certainly begs the question why the film didn’t choose an indigenous character as its protagonist. Personally, I didn’t mind that much, probably because I’m white myself.

Mylia (Emilie Bierre) lying on her bed, her head dangling over the edge, upside down.

Apart from this angle and topic, the film gets a lot of things very right. Mylia’s innocence that makes he (apparently) lag behind her classmates, her awkward first sexual encounters with a boy, the homoerotic charge that lies in her fascination with Jacinthe (the film unfortunately doesn’t explore that – a missed chance), Mylia’s relationship with her little sister Camille. All of these things ring incredibly true and are wonderfully captured by the film.

Ultimately, those parts weighed more heavily for me than the lopsided parallels that the film draws between being a girl and being Indigenous and that ignores that there are Indigenous girls, too. But other than that, it works very well.

Mylia (Emilie Bierre) sitting in class, looking out the window.

Summarizing: worth seeing, despite its whiteness.

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