Supported by Telefilm Canada’s Micro-Budget program, “Le Dep” is an earnest but engaging social-issue drama that exposes problems afflicting a contemporary First Nations group. Apart from one flashback, Sonia Bonspille Boileau’s writing-directing debut takes place over one night in a single location, set around a suspenseful showdown at a convenience store in an Innu community in rural Quebec; its condensed framework and beaucoup dialogue make the pic resemble a classic three-act play. K-Films Amerique released the pic theatrically in Quebec on Aug. 7; digital platforms will follow.
Responsible twentysomething Lydia (Eve Ringuette) works for her father, Serge (Marco Collin), at Le Dep, a combo convenience store and gas station in the remote, fictitious Quebec town of Tshikatin. When a co-worker calls in sick, she is forced to stay on for the night shift, which includes prepping envelopes for the dispersal of $500,000 in benefits money. Although father and daughter seem to share an easy, respectful relationship, the dialogue hints at a complicated past: Years before, Serge was an alcoholic, and Lydia left home while still a teen. But now Serge no longer drinks and has made a success of the store, and Lydia has returned home and is dating local cop Jerome (Yan England).
The helmer signals early on that it will be a long and difficult night at Le Dep. She intercuts scenes of Lydia learning how to operate the store’s safe with shots of a car whose driver is hidden by shadows, heading toward her on the icy roads, while the music track increases the feeling of unease. Thus, the arrival of an armed, masked and hopped-up robber (Charles Buckell-Robertson) isn’t exactly unexpected, though his identity may still be a surprise to viewers.
It’s difficult to discuss what follows without spoilers; suffice it to say that it paves the way for Bonspille Boileau’s underlying theme: the traumas that First Nations communities struggle with, including colonialism, the Indian Act and residential schools, which have caused alcoholism, addiction, violence and despair. Now Lydia, who recognizes her assailant, needs to uses all her wits and resources to talk him down, a task that involves an examination of their shared past and further revelations.
As the hours tick by, the arrival of some outsiders ups the tension ante. First, there is garrulous Regis (Robert-Pierre Cote), a friendly drunk from Lydia’s father’s generation, whose long stories are loaded with exposition. Then there is Jerome, who can’t quite believe that Lydia activated the store’s panic button by accident.
Bonspille Boileau (“Last Call Indien”), who comes from the Kanesatake Mohawk community, has developed and produced television projects in English and French, from children’s programming to documentaries. Her first dramatic screenplay is sometimes overly didactic and too concerned with tidying up all loose ends. But nevertheless, it speaks to a poignant reality in aboriginal communities and, more importantly, provides multi-dimensional roles for her likable native thesps.
The low-budget craft package is solid, albeit sized for the smallscreen. Using the store as the sole location makes a virtue of necessity, visualizing the characters’ feelings of entrapment. Occasional cutaways to the magnificent snowy landscape provide a visual respite and illustrate how remote the area is.