Catimini: Shock to the system

A local drama set in the foster care system has a grim feel, but a creative directorial vision and an excellent young cast.

Émilie Bierre in Catimini

The second feature from director Nathalie St-Pierre (after 2003’s Ma voisine danse le ska) tells the overlapping stories of four young women in various stages of foster care. It starts with shy six-year-old Cathy (Émilie Bierre) being brought to a rural house, where foster parents Réjeanne (Isabelle Vincent) and Raynald (Roger La Rue) preside over a household of older girls, along with their teenage son (Julien Adam).

When the presence of all these young teenagers inevitably leads to some sexual exploration, Keyla (Joyce-Tamara Hall) takes the blame and gets thrown out of the house, ending up in another group home with troubled goth roommate Mégane (Rosine Chouinard-Chauveau). When Mégane runs away, she ends up in a bleak detention centre, where we meet Manu (Frédérique Paré), the focus of the final segment, when she leaves the centre to try and start a normal life. What at first seems like a dark version of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, with one story leading into another, is brought together as a whole in a dramatic conclusion at the reunion of Réjeanne and Raynald’s charges through the years.

The film has a rather grim view of the foster care system. The adults are portrayed as well-intentioned but hopeless at best, abusive at worst. Though some of the young characters show a lot of strength, the overwhelming feeling you get is one of devastating sadness at their plight.

St-Pierre, who produced and edited the film as well as writing and directing it, has an interesting cinematic style. The digital format and straightforward shooting sometimes give the film the flat feel of a low-budget TV show, but the narrative structure and editing choices indicate that there’s a creative vision at work, and St-Pierre’s ability to get naturalistic performances out of a large cast of inexperienced performers demonstrates a lot of talent.

Ultimately, a film like this stands or falls on its performances, and the young actors in this film are uniformly strong. You’ll feel a lot of empathy for the abandoned and abused characters (not to mention their real-life counterparts), but also a lot of admiration for this promising young cast. ■

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