Guidelines by Jean-François Caissy

This post is the second in a series on Hot Docs 2014 films that reorganize and reimagine the limits of documentary.

This quiet, patient NFB-produced film by Quebec visual artist and filmmaker Jean-François Caissy watches adolescents in and around a high school in rural Quebec. The film is stitched together as a series of observant tableaux that move back and forth between youth, on the one hand, in various formations of “hanging out,” and on the other, being questioned about disciplinary issues by an institutional authority in a small schoolroom.

Seemingly small decisions make all the difference to the film’s subtle evocations: the camera focuses on the particular youth being questioned rather than cutting back and forth between adolescent and adult interlocutors, so that we can watch its young subjects register and negotiate between what they’re hearing and what they will do with it. The youth move in and out of still widescreen shots with various backgrounds of rural leisure as the film watchfully demonstrates both their limits and their transgression of limits, their negotiations of space and adaptations to the enforced idleness of immobility in the country.

Guidelines might not seem an experimental work, except that such elegant trust in these images and quiet regard for the expressiveness of the subjects’ bodies and faces is experimental in a documentary landscape anxiously obsessed with dramatic character arcs and constant explanation. Guidelines leaves you thinking about alienation, rebellion, vulnerability, desire and boredom, the low-grade hell and exhilarations of high school life.