This beautiful indie gem from Canadian filmmaker Geneviève Dulude-De Celles charts a teenage girl's anxious adolescence
Before we meet the protagonist of A Colony, 12-year-old Mylia (Émilie Bierre), we glimpse her little sister, Camile (Irlande Côté), playing with frogs in a muddy pond and lying down next to a dead chicken. With all her bizarre innocence, she is the purest definition of childhood and the very idea of what Mylia is attempting to outgrow. Caught somewhere between girlhood and adolescence, writer-director Geneviève Dulude-De Celles fashions an exceptional, gently blazing coming-of-age portrait defined by a sincere kind of tenderness.
This French-language film from Canada follows introverted Mylia as she walks into the lion’s den: her new school classroom in Québec. Head down, eyes forward, reticent Mylia has no interest in being noticed. She is the kind of girl her teachers might label “studious” – that is until she meets Jimmy (Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie), a boy of Abenaki descent who is a soothing presence against the wrath of high school.
A Colony is not so much a plot-driven film. Instead, it is bolstered by the emotional intelligence of Bierre’s unequivocally brilliant lead performance. Her earnest delivery makes even the most cliche of lines – “I don’t need saving” – seem piercingly authentic. Comparisons to Eighth Grade are very much justified, as both films give themselves to the experiences of shy young women, though A Colony, holding focus on Bierre’s flitting gaze and tense shoulders, is subtler in its unvarnished approach.
Léna Mill-Reuillard and Étienne Roussy’s observational camera follows Mylia and Jimmy, weaving between trees in the woodland and bodies at parties, with a hesitant intrigue that replicates Mylia’s anxious energy. Beneath the dappled sunlight peering through leaves or, later, the hot pink neon light spilling onto the dance floor, Mylia exists in the contrast between nature and the artificial; navigating the person she is and the person she fronts. This antagonist differentiation is also prevalent in how the claustrophobia of high school is soothed by Mylia and Jimmy’s trips into the expansive, idyllic countryside. It is here, in their escapist bubble, that Jimmy is afforded the chance to explain his disgust at their peers’ blatant racism while Mylia is given space to confront the boundaries of her self-perception.
While Mylia is able to navigate the woodlands without a map, she has no point of reference for high school parties. Intrigued by boys and alcohol, Celles plots how quickly excitement can plummet into fear. Anxiety mounts as a boy presses Mylia into a bathroom stall and fails to notice her tears, illuminated by the clinical overhead light, as he kisses her. In the fallout, Celles frames Mylia in a clear head-shot, hair pushed back, making her uncomfortable stare entirely inescapable.
The beautifully enraptured coming-of-age film holds a devout fondness for the young woman which it centres. While Mylia goes back and forth between the comforts of childhood and the allure of adulthood in an unassured and fleeting manner, A Colony’s lambent and heartfelt ode to adolescence lingers well beyond the frame.
A Colony is now streaming in the UK on MUBI.Where to watch