Chloé Robichaud on political satire Boundaries
Three smart women find themselves surrounded by chauvinistic mansplainers in this wry political fable from Québécois talent Chloé Robichaud. The 29-year-old writer-director explains how the film she wrote feels even more vital in a post-Trump universe
The meaning of works of art change with time. An artist's message can be repurposed and repackaged decades later by new generations who find something fresh in the work relating to their own time and place. For a prime example, take a look at the recent surge in sales of George Orwell’s 1984 to see how art can have a new resonance when the cultural climate takes a swift right turn.
Usually it takes years, or even decades, for these reappraisals, but sometimes a piece of work’s meaning can change on a dime. That’s what 29-year-old Québécois writer-director Chloé Robichaud discovered when she sat down to watch her sophomore film, Boundaries, ahead of its Montreal premiere. “The last time I watched the film was strange because of the timing,” Robichaud says speaking via Skype from Palm Springs, California, where she’s attending the city’s film festival. “[Boundaries] was released in Quebec the week after the American election. I was there at the premiere in Montreal and for some reason I decided to sit in and watch the film. You know, I’d seen it many times, while editing and at other festivals, but after the American election I thought my story was telling something different about these female characters.”
It’s easy to understand why watching this bone-dry, razor-sharp political satire would feel different after Donald Trump’s election win. Set on the fictional island of Besco, off the coast of mainland Canada, it follows three women involved in the smaller nation’s tense negotiations with Canadian government officials over mining rights on the island.
There’s Besco’s president, played by Macha Greno, who’s under the kind of pressure to achieve a favourable deal with which our own Prime Minister might empathise; Félixe Nasser-Villeray plays a young attaché to the Ottawa team, who, much to her chagrin, is expected to look pretty and keep quiet during the proceedings; and Emily VanCamp plays the bilingual mediator from Chicago brought in to help stop negotiations descending into playground name calling, which is difficult given that the talks take place in a local high school around student desks.
Suffice to say, a fair amount of mansplaining goes down as the boorish male leaders of the Ottawa delegation try to bully their way to a one-sided contract that will give them free reign of Besco's natural resources. The satire of these sad little Napoleons seems even more necessary now given the US election results. “I honestly thought when I was writing the film that a woman would be President of the United States today,” admits Robichaud. “I think I had the intuition that it was hard for women to be in politics, and the American election just showed that to the world. I guess the film is even more, how would you say in English... pertinent?” Indeed it is.
And its resonance is likely to be even stronger when it screens in Glasgow next week in the city's film festival. Nearly three years on from the Scottish Referendum, and with a second possibly looming in the future, Boundaries' theme of a smaller nation’s exploitation by its larger neighbour is sure to fire the imaginaton of the local audience. Being Québécois, the director recognises the dynamic that exists between the two nations in the film all too well. “Here in Quebec we are a small population and we speak French, and we’re in this huge Canada, so I guess people from Quebec always felt different and I think the people of Besco, the island in the film, kind of feel the same.”
The key to Boundaries' success, however, is the choice of a fictional nation as its setting: it gives it an allegorical quality. “I wanted to reach people from Argentina, from France, from China, and I felt that if my story was taking place in Quebec about the mining industry here my film wouldn't be able to reach those people,” explains Robichaud. “So I thought, let's just build an island and I’ll be able to talk about whatever I want to talk about, and create my own political issues.”
Like all great political comedies, much of the satire stems from the writing. But what makes Boundaries sing is that Robichaud matches the script’s sharp wit with immaculate framing and an eye for physical comedy: imagine Wes Anderson directing an episode of The Thick of It. “It’s all about small talk and being real, but I do love details too,” she says. “I think you can create a lot of comic instances with details. Wes Anderson is a great example. Like him, I try to use the space; use the artistic direction to make you laugh.”