Chloé Robichaud’s Boundaries rather formally advertises the unique personalities of its main characters—Danielle (Macha Grenon), Emily (Emily VanCamp), and Félixe (Nathalie Doummar)—via three successive shots as they stare directly into the camera. Subsequently, Robichaud continues to gently attest to how these women manifest the uniqueness of who they are through situations, big and small, that threaten to crush their will. The snippets of the women’s daily lives that illustrate their respective backgrounds suggest how their experiences have shaped their personal and professional lives, and through this Robichaud creates an honest and frequently moving study of the challenges women face while juggling these separate lives. That Boundaries features jarring and experimental shifts in tone, making for what appears on the surface to be a disjointed construction and pace, only reflects the untidy side of life that the three women find themselves in.
The women converge on the fictional country of Besco, a small island nation in economic turmoil located off the coast of Labrador, where members of the Canadian Parliament—including Félixe, a young and naïve newly elected member—seek to negotiate terms with Danielle, Besco’s president, to mine the country’s natural resources. Emily is the American mediator whose difficult separation and custody battle with her ex-husband reveals that she’s rife with contradictions: Robichaud counters scenes of Emily skillfully overseeing the Besco-Canada talks with Emily struggling to sort out the custody of her child, which shows her to be tragically out of her element. A brief, overreacting punch to a soda machine after it eats Emily’s money is all that’s needed to convey her struggle to compartmentalize her emotional exasperation.
Boundaries freely shifts between Emily’s poignant narrative thread and Danielle and Félixe’s respective storylines, which wittily depict the sometimes awkward ways these women negotiate the casual sexism that’s so commonplace in the world of politics. Throughout the film, the sequences centered around the Canadian and Besconian parties squabbling over how to work out a deal function to reveal how Danielle and Félixe have slowly come to feel disillusioned by their professions. Robichaud plays the negotiations, in which the politicians place the profitable mining of Besco under the guise that it will be a job creator, as a series of maddening dead ends due to everyone acting on their own self-interests. That all of the negotiations take place at a local school, where oversized lawmen cram into tight desk chairs, emphasizes the absurd, childlike nature of the deliberations.
These self-serving talks also expose how curiously ignorant politicians are of the people they’ve been elected to serve, culminating in a shocking act of violence against the politicians by a local Besconian. But as ominous as this incident is, it shows that, apart from the film’s main trio of women, everyone’s life in the film is just as complicated as Danielle, Emily, and Félixe’s. In the end, Robichaud’s use of extended establishing shots of the small island of Besco, with its people bustling about, is a humanizing brushstroke for how it suggests that there are more stories here just waiting to be told.