________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007


The Year Before.

Katie McKenna (Writer & Director). Adam Symansky (Producer). Sally Bochner (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2006.
63 min., VHS & DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9106 120.

Subject Headings:
High school students-Canada-Biography.
Teenage boys-Attitudes.
Teenage boys-Psychology.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Laura Ludtke.

*** /4

A documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada, The Year Before focuses on the lives of four boys at Westmont High School in Montreal in their final year of high school.  In Quebec, high school ends in Grade 11; afterwards, students have the choice of going on to CEGEP (Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel or 'College of General and Professional Education' ) for another two years, or immediately joining the workforce. The documentary follows the four boys around at school, after school, and at home. It shows them amongst their peers and alone in the most introspective of moods. At first, the four boys, Mikhael, Ali, Stefan, and Mikey, seem like nothing more than stereotypes of the different groups of youth in high schools across Canada; however, the documentary is quickly able to develop their individuality through their personalities and life choices. The boys are each given their own video cameras so they can capture beyond the limits of the documentary film crew, and they proceed to video their pranks, thoughts, and illicit activities. Between scenes showing moments in class, or the interactions of groups at school, the film crew asks the boys and their classmates important questions about relationships, sex, appropriate behaviour at school, drugs, and their personal beliefs. Though these conversations are interesting and effectively give context to the boys’ lives, the boys’ families, their goals for the future, and their past experiences are noticeably absent from the documentary. Since the film was produced at a English-speaking school in Montreal, there are often seamless transitions between French and English within conversations and classrooms. The film handles these switches well, with subtitles (in English, for French conversations), and, therefore, is able to capture an important aspect of life in bilingual Montreal.  I also wondered why so little mention was made of their families (though especially their parents), and why the film followed the lives of four boys (no girls?). The film is not narrated, and aside from several text frames explaining the context of the scenes or introducing individuals, it is too unstructured at times and is hard to follow. On the other hand, the unstructured quality of the film allows the boys lives to progress without the judgement of a ‘narrator’, and their lives unfold through the seasons of the year. Although there a lack of dynamic change in their lives (with perhaps the exception of Mikhael, who is finally expelled permanently with three months left of school for vandalism), the boys are able to look back at the five years they attended Westmont and evaluate the changes they have undergone and the experiences they had. The Year Before is an interesting and unusual window into the lives of four boys in their last year of high school. The film portrays them with a depth and respect usually not reserved for teenagers.


Laura Ludtke, a recent graduate from the University of British Columbia, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Honours Classical Studies. She is currently attending Queen’s University where she is pursuing a Master of Arts in Classics. She enjoys watching documentaries, which she considers an original and superior form to 'reality television'.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.