Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2017 7:44 pm 
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French Canadian women-in-politics film is dutiful, a bit flat

Chloé Robichaud, a French Canadian filmmaker, wants to show us women in politics. In her film Pays ("Countries"), called Boundaries in English, the focus is on three women at a conference about a mining contract involving Canada and a fictitious nearby island country called Besco. The women are: Danielle Richard (Macha Grenon), Besco's distinguished-looking woman president; Emily Price (Emily VanCamp of the Captain America movies), an impressive and cute blonde bilingual moderator; and Félixe (Nathalie Doummar), a promising and - in her case especially important - pretty young intern with the Canadian ministry, who's just helped manage a successful political campaign.

The men are shits, terrorists, or sex partners. The shits are the high government officials and the fat lobbyist who try to force Besco to accept the mining company and its crooked, polluting ways because the country needs the jobs and money the mining will bring. The terrorist is a rural nationalist and anti-vegetarian who momentarily paralyzes everyone near the film's end. The sex partner is primarily Vincent (Alexandre Landry), a tall, fit young member of the bargaining team who, on a drunken night, Félixe takes to bed. The women do their power things and also women things. Félixe's woman thing is to get laid (and sick drunk); the lady president's is to have to tend to a young daughter who gets a broken leg; and Emily Price has it the toughest: she must cope with a soon-to-be ex who's negotiating to get total custody of her adorable little long-haired blond son.

We are told at the end that Danielle Richard's effort to exclude the mining corporation and develop a mining coop à la Brazil was successful, and she was reelected; Félixe went into independent charitable work and was successful; and Emily became part of a global team doing good things and was successful. Nice outcomes, but a little bit generic, to put it mildly.

Pays is neatly constructed, taking place during only a few days. And the austere, pristine locations of St. John's in Newfoundland and Fogo Island, Labrador that stand in for Besco are beautiful. But as Stephan Dalton politely points out in his Toronto Hollywood Reporter review, this movie is "an interesting idea let down by lukewarm execution." It's "underpowered and unfocused," and "not the strong sophomore film it might have been."

The political negotiation sessions are sometimes downright boring: you so much wish, particularly in depicting the stuffy and boorish males, that Robichaud had not written this to be so much by-the-numbers - that she had ramped up the humor and the excitement. She could have tweaked the plot to make those negotiations really intense and suspenseful like the recent Wall Street films - one of which, Meera Menon's Equity, like J.C.Chandor's great Crash film Margin Call (ND/NF 2011), is a smart intense step-by-step thriller - but in the case of Equity, has women as its main characters. Boundaries is (mostly) watchable, but it lacks the pizzaz, wit, and smarts a subject like this has got to have to make a good movie. Interesting to watch French Canadians operating 95% in French in a story like this, though.

Boundaries/Pays, 100 mins., debuted at Toronto; it failed to get into Cannes in rough cut form, Dalton reports. Screened for this review as part of the 2017 Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art joint series, New Directors/New Films.

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