Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Movie Review: Genesis

Genesis **** / *****
Directed by: Philippe Lesage.
Written by: Philippe Lesage.
Starring: Théodore Pellerin (Guillaume), Noée Abita (Charlotte), Paul Ahmarani (Perrier), Édouard Tremblay-Grenier (Félix), Emilie Bierre (Béatrice), Jules Roy Sicotte (Nicolas), Marc Beaupré (Coach Jacques), Émile Bilodeau (Seb), Brett Dier (Todd), Pier-Luc Funk (Maxime), Antoine Marchand Gagnon (Alexis), Maxime Dumontier (Theo).
Phillippe Lesage’s thorny Genesis is a film that continues to grow in my mind the farther I get from it. It is about the pain of young love – and lust – but not in the innocent, cutesy way we often see in so called coming of age movies. It is a film about thwarted desire – and the consequences of putting yourself out there, even while recognizing that the only way to get what you are longing for is to do just that. It is a film about heartbreak – but one that recognizes the lasting, serious impact of that.
At its core, for at least the first 100 minutes of Genesis, are two step-siblings – high school aged Guillaume (Theodore Pellerin) and his college aged step-sister Charlotte (Noée Abita). He is at an all-boys dormitory school, and is seemingly popular in his school – at least on the surface. He’s a jokester and the class clown, and he can get everyone laughing. And yet, in terms of close friendships, there is really only Nicolas (Jules Roy Sicotte) – a jock with him his shares an easy connection. It’s clear from the outset – although the movie doesn’t make it explicit until later – that Guillaume is performing in his more overtly confident moments. We see him more himself as he sits, alone, reading – or walking through a party full of couples dancing by himself – feeling alone and isolated, because of course, he cannot admit who he is – not yet. When he finally does – in two painfully awkward scenes (one to Nicolas himself, another to his entire class) – they are the two best moments in Pellerin’s terrific performance (he won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Actor for his wildly over the top performance in Family First – he should have won it for this). They aren’t quite the heartbreak moments you think they could be – but it certainly does lead to a terrible ending for him, based on little more than stereotypes from this sort of closed minded school.
His older sister, on the other hand, is not in an unrequited love situation in college – and isn’t just pining to express her sexuality. She has no problems finding partners – boyfriends, sex partners, etc. – but it doesn’t bring her anymore happiness than not finding them brought Guillaume. We first meet her when she’s with a boy her own age – Maxime (Pier-Luc Funk) – and seems happy. But then, in an awkward young man’s attempt to seem worldly, he suggests that they may not always be together, and perhaps an open relationship is more fitting (the poor bastard doesn’t realize at the time that the way this is going to end is with him on the floor in a heap crying). Charlotte seemingly finds what Maxime says he wanted – in an older boyfriend – Theo (Maxime Dumontier) – but he ultimately isn’t any better than Maxime – any more mature – and wants that initial wave of lust dies between them, she’s left with the same emptiness. That openness though leads to the most traumatic moment in the film – that basically ends the story of Guillaume and Charlotte.
And that’s because, Lesage does something interesting and strange with about 30 minutes to go in the film – he leaves behind his main characters, and tells a completely different story of young love for the final act in the film. He revisits the protagonist from his 2015 debut film The Demons (unseen by me – but not for long considering how much I liked Genesis) – Felix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier) – now a young teenager, away at summer camp. He locks eyes, meaningfully, with Béatrice (Emilie Bierre) and the two have what passes for a summer relationship when you’re around 13 years old – a lot of tentative glances, awkward looks, and friends acting as go-betweens, and finally hand holding. This is a more innocent romance than what we see the other two protagonists go through – and yet, oddly, it isn’t particularly refreshing. It’s sadder than anything else – because we know what is in store for them – what these innocent interactions turn into. Right now, they are innocent – but in a few years, they will be at the mercy of what we’ve seen in the other part of the movie – toxic masculinity, insecurity, bigotry and rape culture.
All of this probably makes Genesis sound bleaker and more depressing than it actually is. For as dark as things can get in Genesis, there is also a strange level of hope here – hope that if these characters can remain open, they may actually be able to get what it is they want. Guillaume and Charlotte are ahead of their peers in many ways – and that is why they get hit harder. Felix and Beatrice are also ahead somewhat – we aren’t seeing other such romances here.
All of this is rendered in a deeply humanist way by Lesange and his actors. His style is often to hold the camera longer than you think we would – shots go on a long time here, and don’t look away. The film has an interesting structure – going back and forth between Guillaume and Charlotte, before flashing to Felix and Beatrice. It’s a complex movie that doesn’t really tell you what to think, what to feel – and it refuses to wrap anything up in a neat package. And that is perhaps why the film is staying with me, haunting me, for days when most films dissipate as soon they are over.

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