Alex, a six year-old boy, watches as a stray cat paws at him through the window of his apartment.  With a look of pure compassion he turns to his father and asks if they can let him in, “just for a little.” His father puts a hand on his shoulder gently and says no. “Because then we’d have to take care of him.”

Rebel —  a French-language short film by director Pier-Philippe Chevigny — has over 75 film festival selections and received 16 awards prior to its public release on Nov. 30. The short is set in the near future of 2022 as Canada faces a severe immigration crisis from refugees fleeing deportation in the United States. 

Pier-Philippe Chevigny’s Rebel

The events of the film are shown almost entirely through the perspective of Alex, played by Édouard-B. Larocque. In doing so, the film contrasts between his childish innocence with a subject matter that is innately cruel in nature.

The story follows Alex on a day with his father, as they go out into the woods with other families for what appears to be an innocent gathering. It quickly becomes apparent however, that it is instead a vigilante patrol to round up immigrants. While playing hide-and-seek, Alex stumbles upon a migrant family and must watch in complete horror at the cruelty the adults around him inflict on the family.

With the exception of a few landscape shots and brief glances, almost the entire film is framed around Alex or through his eyes. Chevigny uses an unwavering focus on the child to magnify the cruelty of xenophobia to great effect. Anyone with a sense of empathy can understand the horrific nature of this film’s subject matter, but the juxtaposition of a child’s innocence makes its impact that much more potent.

Larocque’s performance is commendable and anchors the entire film. To display the emotional range he does is remarkable for any actor, let alone a child of his age. His simple joy and happiness at the beginning of the film feels just as sincere as the guilt and remorse he displays when he leads the adults to the family. This film would not work nearly as well without Larocque as its emotional core.

On a technical level too, the film does its best to embody the tone of a near-future dystopia that is startlingly close to our reality. With a muted color palette of cool tones and an extensive use of shallow focus to blur the surroundings, the film feels visually gloomy as much as it feels real. Taken all together it puts across the feeling of a focused and direct appeal to the audience’s emotions, in addition to portraying a mirror of our reality.

In a time where our current President has normalised rampant xenophobia with a campaign centered around building a border wall and sustained by attacks on immigrants as rapists, murderers, and criminals, this film feels extremely important and timely to our social climate.

Xenophobia, Racism, and Immigration

Xenophobia and right-wing nationalism has seen a startling surge around the globe, as countries as varied as the United Kingdom, France, and Australia have developed growing movements built around the premise of ‘protecting’ their countries from immigrants.

 The US has denounced President Trump and denied his re-election. However,  President-Elect Biden has nonetheless denied immigration as one of his main concerns and refused to make commitments to take action beyond repealing the most egregious of Trump’s policies. Going forward, it is evident that immigration and xenophobia will continue to be an issue that the country grapples with for years to come.

In a social and political landscape like this, Rebel is an important and heart wrenching film that should be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Hatred and cruelty towards immigrants and refugees is an ever-present threat to our society. 

Even if the audience sympathizes with the plight of a refugee, seeing it through the eyes of a child may make it that much more meaningful. And if they hold those same dangerous and harmful prejudices, Rebel might be the film that makes them stop and reflect on the pain their beliefs may cause. Either way, this is a film that deserves to be seen.