Six-year-old Alex and his father are spending an afternoon playing at home when Dad decides to meet up with friends in the forest. It seems like just spending time in nature with a group, enjoying games. But the little boy soon realizes what they’re there to do: hunt out refugees entering Canada to avoid deportation.
Alex is increasingly discomfited by what he witnesses, and especially at seeing his loving, caring parent reveal a darker side of himself. As the vigilante patrol continues with their hunt, something inside the little boy tells him to rebel.
Written and directed by Pier-Philippe Chevigny, this powerful drama explores a tender, complicated father-son relationship amidst a tumultuous political backdrop, as shifting tides in Canada give rise to extremist ideologies and actions. The emotional journey, however, is one of a punctured innocence, in which an audience observes, through a child’s POV, the small but significant rupture between a close-knit pair.
Alex begins the film as a typical young child, deeply connected to his dad, with a consciousness that flits to and from sensory details, sensations, images and thoughts. The filmmaking matches Alex’s subjectivity, with impressionistic, almost restless editing, and a rhythm and disjointedness familiar to anyone who knows a small child. The images also highlight a uniquely textured eye that plays with focus and blurs to highlight the way Alex looks at the world.
The action unfolds around Alex, but he’s oblivious at first, content to marvel at the natural world around him and play with his fun, loving father, who engages in the games being played in the woods. These games, however, slowly reveal their nature to Alex as he discovers one of their targets. With this discovery, the perspective changes, as Alex’s understanding of the stakes of the “game” become fleshed out.
The visuals shift as well, becoming pitilessly clear and focused, with shots widening to reveal fuller context. Young actor Edouard B. Laroque, who plays Alex, inhabits this shift with understated but compelling subtlety, with a heart-rending openness of emotion and thought that makes the final scene all the more poignant and powerful.
The subject of “Rebel” is speculative but incendiary -(and perhaps more relevant than ever in today’s current social climate.) But the artistic approach is subtle, naturalistic and precise, with a keen eye for the minor but telling detail and a firm refusal of reductionist storytelling. All children must navigate the shift that happens when they see their parents as not just all-powerful caregivers, but humans with flaws, mistakes and poor judgment.
Yoking this emotional journey of innocence to realization with a collective portrait of vigilante extremism offers a unique perspective on both strands of the narrative’s thematic terrain. Through a child’s eyes, we see that humans are complex, as full of love, camaraderie and tenderness as they are of hatred and anger. But we also see the clarity of right and wrong — one that can never quite disappear, no matter how buried it becomes through rhetoric or ideology.