It’s a quiet summer day in Dufresne Park, where the neighborhood teens loiter, killing time and hanging out. But then a new park monitor appears for his first day on the job, igniting a power struggle and territorial clash between two very different worlds.
Writer-director Yan Giroux’s stunning short drama is a sharp examination of social politics and class as they play out in public spaces. The park’s habitues seem to be working class, but the surveillant himself comes into their territory with a nice bike and guarded, almost defensive demeanor, immediately setting the hostilities of the neighborhood youth off. By nature of his position, the monitor comes into a role of power, and yet the film constructs how he very out of place he is.
The film’s camerawork — featuring long tracking and panning shots — is stunning, allowing for both a fluidity and sense of tension to build. The camerawork allows viewers to take in details of the setting and characters normally overlooked, such as the graffiti etched on the streets and signs, and the way bystanders in the background observe the new park monitor. These all add up to a quiet but sustained sense of tension that never quite resolves, but leaves viewers with an unsettled feeling and questions of just what it means to have and exert power.
Without the typical techniques of classical editing to construct drama, the film — which was an official selection at both Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals — is reliant on both the camera movement and the incredibly natural and understated performances to convey the conflict. There is barely any dialogue in the conventional sense, but the few delivered lines are evocative and even menacing.
The sound design also is notable for its ability to convey the world past the frame, relaying the snatches of conversation around the park monitor, almost haunting him with their omnipresence. The sound scaffolds the monitor in a world whose lines of powers are not apparent to the eye, and navigating his way through it is perilous and fraught.
As he rides back to the office at the end of the night, the park monitor makes his way through the space in a stunningly choreographed sequence that evokes both war and horror movies — and just how it feels to make your way through a space that is hostile to your existence. “Surveillant” is a perceptive, understated social study, as well as a feat of incredible craft, able to convey both the “objective” space of the park as well as the “subjective” experience of both the park monitor with great skill and unusual but unforgettable storytelling.