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Canadian actress Emily VanCamp says she almost didn’t sign on for Boundaries (Pays) because it was in French – despite her years in French Immersion in Port Perry, Ont. ‘When something scares you, it’s a sign you should probably do it,’ she says. (Christopher Wahl For The Globe and Mail)
Canadian actress Emily VanCamp says she almost didn’t sign on for Boundaries (Pays) because it was in French – despite her years in French Immersion in Port Perry, Ont. ‘When something scares you, it’s a sign you should probably do it,’ she says. (Christopher Wahl For The Globe and Mail)

Filming Boundaries, actress Emily VanCamp felt free to 'surrender' Add to ...

With the wind whipping the tails of their scarves and stray strands of hair into their faces, a group of Canadian politicians and their aides amble out of a ferry that has carried them off the east coast of Canada to the sovereign island of Besco (pop. 170,000). Cold, impatient, and close-minded, the troupe has come to negotiate over the island’s rich natural resources and Canada’s financial stake in digging them out. This is Boundaries (Pays), a story of political and personal mediation and a bold departure in theme and scale for Quebecois director Chloé Robichaud.

Instead of the intensely singular character focus of Robichaud’s debut film, Sarah Prefers to Run – which followed the titular Sarah in close-ups and tight frames as she moved to Montreal on a running scholarship – Boundaries unspools the broader swath of three women at very different moments in their careers. There is the American mediator Emily (Emily VanCamp of Captain America and Revenge fame who speaks impeccable and fluent French), Besco’s poker-faced president Danielle (Macha Grenon, Barney’s Version), and fledgling Canadian politician Félixe (newcomer Nathalie Doummar).

Filmed mostly on Newfoundland’s Fogo Island with a colour palette of burnt oranges, mustard yellows, and deep navy blues, Boundaries is a moody and original look at questions of sovereignty, environmental responsibility and the collapsing of both economies and intimacies. “We got there at a tail end of a hurricane” VanCamp, 30, says with a laugh. But, she adds, “it sort of reflects the struggle of these women” – a bit of pathetic fallacy that linked the shoot with the tumultuous story.

During this past September’s Toronto International Film Festival, after a full day of press interviews, VanCamp, 30, speaks of the film with something akin to devotion. “It was exactly what I needed creatively. Just coming off of the projects I had previously been doing – Captain America was right before, and we had just finished Revenge right before that … on many levels I felt a little bit burnt out and creatively like I was really missing something. I just needed that safe, intimate environment, and this movie was exactly that. It was the place where I was free to fail.”

The actor describes the “feminine influence” that ran throughout Robichaud’s process and her sense that Boundaries “felt meant-to-be and very blessed from the beginning.”

“Having done a lot of television, there have been moments in my career where I’ve felt like I’ve needed to protect a performance or protect myself as an actor because I wasn’t being guided in a way that felt was safe,” VanCamp says. “After watching Sarah Prefers to Run and watching how Chloé works, and seeing the things she was getting out of me, I just thought, ‘I can really surrender here.’ … Some people have had the luxury of working with great directors from the very beginning and they have probably never known the other side of that – and I have.” The opening moments of Boundaries state that it is based on a true story, though when I ask Robichaud, 28, how that is the case (a Google Earth search for Besco thankfully does not somehow produce a sovereign island off the coast of this country that I was unaware of), the director explains: “When I say it’s ‘based on real events’ in a way it is true, because when I started writing the film I thought about social and political issues that are really happening right now in Canada, or Quebec, or elsewhere. So in a way I’m saying the film is happening somewhere in the world. These women are fiction, they are not real, but what they are living, some women really are living. We watch film, we watch a part of reality.”

The reality of Boundaries was dictated in part by a budget four times as large as it was for Sarah Prefers to Run and Robichaud’s choice to cast VanCamp. Of the $4.2-million dollars she now had to play with, Robichaud wasn’t sure if it changed anything “because my job is still the same. But I had the chance now to film in 35mm and to shoot in locations like Fogo Island.” Despite the commonplace use of digital, Robichaud waxes poetic on the virtues of film. “It feels so magical shooting in film. Each day is really important because each day costs something, so everything is focused and detailed. The film is about this island that is sort of stuck in the past and wants to enter modernity … we had to shoot in film to get a sense of nostalgia.”

VanCamp also speaks of Boundaries in terms of magic and the delicate alchemy that brought the project to life. “Everything just worked out, and I can’t believe it, but I almost didn’t do the movie because I was scared of the French,” she confesses. Both actor and director insist that the other’s command of language is stronger – each admitting their first few meetings were tentative because of their different mother tongues – but VanCamp says that Robichaud “was the brave one. She spoke to me in English first and then after our first conversation I said, ‘The next time we speak I’m going to try to speak only in French.’” Originally from the English-speaking community of Port Perry, Ont., VanCamp was a French immersion student and describes her perfectionism as the blessing and curse that helped her revive her slumbering French. “When something scares you, it’s a sign that you should probably do it, especially in this profession,” she says.

Along these lines, I ask Robichaud if she would ever consider making a feature film in English – and she answers with a diplomacy that her own character Emily could admire. “Actually, yes, I have a project in mind, a feature. I don’t know if it will be in the U.S. or where. It’s something I want to do, but still my home is Montreal and I am French Canadian and I will always make French films,” she says. “But for me, I don’t think there are boundaries in a way, I just want to reach as many people as possible and to tell stories in every possible way.”

Boundaries (Pays) opens Nov. 18 in Quebec

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