The Canadian youths in Jean-François Caissy’s Guidelines are at that formative, often uncomfortable, time in their lives when they become aware of their independence while still under the relative control of the adults in their midst. Between scenes of them paintballing, skateboarding, and spending a leisurely day at a swimming hole (which includes some nerve-wracking dives off a high-above train trestle), they’re frequently disciplined by guidance counselors and social workers, such as getting into fights and using drugs. As the film is devoid of background detail into each of the featured teens, Caissy reveals a lack of interest in a psychological profile of their currently fickle mindset; instead, through an elegant visual style, the filmmaker simply seeks to evoke the feeling of living at such a spirited age.
Caissy captures his subjects’ blossoming liberation by framing the teens in extreme static wide shots while they roam in great expanses of land at their own will, with some seemingly enveloped by the world as they run or ride away into the far reaches of the image; the film’s CinemaScope ratio is used to its full potential, as almost every inch of the frame in these scenes is occupied by some type of action. On the flip side are the interview scenes, which take place in cramped and bland interiors, with the camera focused solely on the reprimanded youth. While the moments of play are shot from such a distance that people appear faceless, the interviews are routinely shot in close-ups so as to capture the subjects’ every expression, which, humorously, is almost always one of boredom as various counselors feed them the predictable rhetoric of how they must mature; even one girl, who at first appears empowered after she’s told to stick up to a bully, slowly grows weary of a counselor’s long-winded speech.
As in The Naked Room, the interviews offer a glimpse into the lives of a society’s children, though Caissy purposefully dances around his subjects’ traumas. The trouble the youths are accused of rousing is never seen, effectively implying that their troublemaking is the stuff of transience, a phase before they’re ushered into the realm of adult responsibility. If the climactic shot of a car suddenly breaking down and becoming ominously surrounded by smoke personifies what’s in store for the teens in the near future, Caissy seems to suggest that his young subjects should enjoy the vigor and freedom of their playtime while it lasts.