Sunday, September 16, 2018
Nate Hood on First Stripes (2018) Camden International Film Festival (2018)
Seemingly heavily influenced by American documentarian Frederik Wiseman, a filmmaker who’s turned his persistently objective gaze on his own country’s social institutions for the better part of sixty years, Caissy seeks to not only examine his young recruits but the CAF themselves and how they produce a sterile environment that psychologically strips the individuality away from its trainees for replacement with a collectivized, self-sacrificial mentality. (“It’s Canada before yourself,” one officer booms.)
But unlike Wiseman who liberally turned his camera on the administrators and bossmen of the institutions he probed, Caissy rarely shows the commanding officers, even during training exercises, choosing instead to focus on the steely-eyed, blank expressions of the soldiers as they receive orders, reprimands, and assignments. Sometimes this is used to great effect, such as a scene where the soldiers are taught the byzantine, labyrinthine differences between orders and directives from various agencies like the DAOD, the CFAO, and the CBI: they struggle to stay focused and awake as their unseen instructor drones on and on about protocol. In other sequences such as a recruit getting interrogated by his sergeant for accidentally leaving his cell phone on during an inspection, the creative decision seems arbitrary. Perhaps Caissy was uncomfortable with doing anything that might humanize the officers over the recruits—doing so could have easily made the film less an exploration of humans under difficult conditions then a recruitment tool advertising the CAF.
But the choice of music—not just the aforementioned Prelude but other classical flourishes—tip Caissy’s hand in way he probably didn’t intend.