“You look like a politician,” Félixe (Nathalie Doummar) tells a male colleague on an evening stroll early in “Boundaries,” to which he looks mildly aghast. She assures him, “Don’t worry, it has its charm.”
It certainly does, to go by Chloe Robichaud’s second feature, a somewhat dry yet killer satire set on the small island of Besco where secret negotiations are being held between the independent nation and Canada to facilitate ore mining rights. While unexpected in relation to Robichaud’s compelling first feature, the intimate character study “Sarah Prefers to Run,” about a college track star with a heart defect, “Boundaries” demonstrates a brilliant sense of humor to go along with an uncommonly sharp observations, making the study of politics on a number of fronts, as much gender-related as dealing with governance, a provocative delight from start to finish.
Set at a small college in which the small desks and chalkboards inside the school’s gym all make the adults with the authority to affect thousands look downright juvenile, “Boundaries” primarily sets its sights on three women, each at different career points, but all frustrated by their limitations, the real ones and what they believe others perceive about them. As president of the quiet island, Danielle Richard (Macha Grenon) doesn’t have much leverage, but can put up a steely front as a negotiator, a trait that clearly has helped her reach the top job but has put forth an identity that has subsumed the person who initially ran for office. Meanwhile, there is Emily Price (Emily VanCamp), the impartial mediator brought in to negotiate talks because of her calm professionalism, yet is far more intemperate on breaks when she has to deal by phone with her ongoing custody battle over her five-year-old, and Félixe Nasser-Villeray, a young federal deputy to the finance minister (Rémy Girard) who appears to be brought along for her fresh ideas, but is told to stay quiet after daring to clarify something during negotiations that her boss said.
Robichaud has an extraordinary feel for her characters as well as professional and personal duality, catching every minor gesture or phrase that might change the mood or the tenor of a conversation — she’s interested in the gamesmanship of all those onhand in terms of how they’ll get what they want, sure, but equally interested in why they want it. With cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné immaculately composing every frame to capture emotion – often of how lonely it is in their profession in their position, the equally precise script is careful to reveal in small, subtle ways the women’s anxieties and ambitions, and though she frequently injects jazz into the film to underline the controlled chaos of the negotiations, Robichaud peppers the dialogue with stray thoughts that wind up being some of the film’s most insightful moments, as well as the funniest.
Grenon, VanCamp and Doummar each run with the rich characters that Robichaud has given them, yet they are hardly alone as anyone with a speaking part is gifted with multiple dimensions. Equally impressive is how the writer/director adapted her distinctive, contemplative style to the demands of a quick-witted ensemble satire, resulting in a clever concoction where the ideas stick around after the laughs die down. It’s a huge step forward for Robichaud, who now should be considered amongst the most exciting young filmmakers in the world, showing no limits on what she can do.
“Boundaries” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play once more at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 at 9:15 am.