‘Dérapages’ asks the tough questions about Québec’s youth behind the wheel

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Dérapages

Directed by Paul Arcand

Written by Paul Arcand

Canada, 2012

Automobile accidents make up the number 1 cause of death in the Canadian province of Québec on an annual basis. Youngsters, by which it is meant the group of people between the ages of 16 to 24, are unfortunately the victims and offenders of far too many said behind the wheel accidents, especially in La Belle Province. Just what are the reasons that might explain such a disastrous reality? Seasoned documentary filmmaker Paul Arcand takes a look into the world of teenagers and young adults and their precious automobiles, learning how they drive, why they drive and, most importantly, under what conditions do they drive.

Dérapages opens with a montage of clips featuring some groups of youth having a grand old time in a club or at a small bar, dancing and drinking the night away These images are juxtaposed with those of fast moving cars, either from actual video footage or from action movies. A catchy dance tune rhythmically rocks  its beat as the images are cut and interspersed at an increasing pace until, the first person view of one vehicle finally crashes violently into a tree. Finally, the first of five stories is told, elaborating the details on how four friends from Drummondville went partying at a small local bar one night, got absolutely hammered yet who nevertheless opted to return home by vehicle, in which the driver was obviously operating the car under an inebriated state. Their fate was sealed the moment they entered the vehicle. From there director Arcand visits the surviving victims as well as relatives of other car crash victims, all of which have horrific stories to tell.

‘…the simplicity (of the storytelling)  is effective given how in this instance, the subject matter is arguably what matters most above all else.’

As was the case with Bully, which Sound on Sight reviewed not too long ago, Dérapages is an incredibly infuriating viewing experience. The filming techniques used are quite simple, as Arcand satisfies himself with talking head interviews, some demonstrations of vehicle control and, in a few instances, re-enactments of the stories the interviewees share. Nothing too elaborate on the whole, but the simplicity is effective given how in this instance, the subject matter is arguably what matters most above all else. Perhaps a documentary about teenagers and young adults dying at the wheel of their cars which employed overtly fanciful techniques would not wash over well with audiences. The only gimmicky moment, albeit an admittedly clever one, is when, after the movie has already interviewed some youth who reveal their love of speed and adrenaline, the director has non other than former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve drive a modified car down a stretch of country road and break accordingly upon arriving at the nearest corner and stop sign. He takes one run at a decent speed and breaks perfectly well. A few runs later, each at increasing speeds, sees Villeneuve beginning to admit that the quality of the road and various other factors do make the act of breaking on time and comfortably rather tricky. Consider: a- Jacques Villeneuve was not drunk during these tests and b- this is a former F1 race driver saying this. Imagine what that makes the kids interviewed in this film look like…

If there is only one fault that can be aimed at the picture, it would be in its mediocre effort in offering a possible solution to the problem. After listing off some of the laws which dictate the penalties to young offenders in other nations (all of which Paul Arcand seems to agree with), Dérapages concludes that the best solution would be for parents to have better control over when and how their young teens earn the privilege of driving the family car, although who exactly believes this to be the strategy is unknown. More specifically, driving privileges should be awarded in small, incremental steps instead of letting the teens loose on the road from the moment of their 16th birthday. A smart suggestion, no question, but the film then practically shoots it down by revealing a bunch of youngsters who claim that they have witnessed their own parents drive well beyond the allowed speed limit on certain roads, even occasionally intervening by asking them so slow down. But if the parents themselves cannot control their inhibitions while on the road, then who is to guide the youth. After all, by the time the cops have to tell them what they did wrong, it usually means its too late at that stage.

That small reservation aside, director Arcand offers a a well of insight into the psychology of various youngsters who either have been victims of accidents or know people who were. He does not shy away from making some of them look and sound completely stupid because, all things considered, they are behaving rather stupidly. When a boy admits in a single sentence that he knows of someone who suffered an accident after operating his vehicle while drunk, but does it himself himself despite knowing that is it dangerous…it becomes difficult to draw any other conclusion. Had the chap said he did not think about the risks (which itself would seem highly unlikely), maybe a dialogue could be had to help him change his ways, but when they admit to actually knowing perfectly well that what they do carries potentially deadly consequences, oh boy. A witty little line of narration says that most Québec teens are more worried about losing their license then they are about losing their lives. There is a pervasive school of thought which dictates that accidents will always happen to another individual, never to oneself. This is not a matter of practicing an extreme sport of any kind. Those people prepare themselves, they train, they equip themselves with everything they need to succeed, which includes keeping oneself fit. This is a matter of delusional kids whose infuriating single mindedness all too often becomes the death of them.

‘One has to imagine things are disconcerting when, on opening night of last 2011’s Five Five, Québec police intensified their patrol duties along the roads siding various multiplexes across the province. ‘

Note to the faint of heart: Dérapages is willing to show rather graphic archival pictures featuring the physical scars resulting from the crashes. Cuts to the head with stitches, a face whose right side is paralyzed, detailed descriptions of one girls numerous fractures (jaw, vertebrae, legs, etc). Arcand cannot be faulted for aiming for shock value. The fact of the matter is that this is what can result from such accidents. The most difficult story to watch, one which is not graphic in the slightest but packs a wallop of emotional pain, concerns a 24 year old, who, due to the cranial trauma suffered, is condemned to spend the rest of his lives in an old folks home so much is he incapacitated. The man is 24 years old!

Influences include what others their age encourage them to do, media, alcohol and, the grand daddy excuse of them all, the love of the rush, of adrenaline. The latter is appears to be a commonality among a significant portion of youngsters who enjoy taking control of their motor vehicles. The scariest discovery is that when these kids are being interviewed, they look and sound incredibly jaded. Whether this is due to camera shyness or because all they really need to ‘live’ is to drive at 150 kilometres per hour in a 80klm lane is anyone’s guess, but it is ironic that most of the adrenaline junkies appeared bored out of their skulls whenever not revving up an engine. One has to imagine things are disconcerting when, on opening night of last 2011’s Five Five, Québec police intensified their patrol duties along the roads siding various multiplexes across the province. Are the police required to check people bags and cell phones of movie goers when a Bond movie comes out?

If nothing else, Dérapages has viewers observe a major concern in contemporary Québec society. Are the law too lax? Are parents too lax? Have people lost their appreciation of risk? Need the government step with more intense campaigns? While Paul Arcand does not offer any definitive answers, finding them begins with at least asking the right questions.

-Edgar Chaput

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