This a stunning dual study of adolescent love, both reciprocated and unrequited. Philippe Lesage has produced a timeworn tale in an extraordinary fashion. What should be twee, stale and predictable is wrought new; an exhilarating shift half way through inverts the traumatic, interwoven romances of the first act. We finish with longing that’s more innocent but still pained: a testament to budding youth and its quieter heartbreak.
Noée Abita and Théodore Pellerin excel as Charlotte and Guillaume, ambiguously wealthy stepsiblings who live in suburban French Canada. Guillaume is precocious and erudite, Charlotte compassionate and confused. They’re ground down by the men around them. Charlotte suffers from variously indifferent, oleaginous and vicious male attention – all liaisons start positively before descending into varying levels of cruelty. The men remark on her beauty, sully it, and throw her away. It ends in the worst way.
Lesage draws heavily on autobiography and there’s a valuable emotional naivety to his work. The stepbrother’s boarding school is a hotbed of juvenile patter mixed with high academic learning. Intellectual snobbery seems to outdo emotional competence. Teacher and student alike demean the sporty types. But Guillaume, once clown prince of the classroom, befalls a tragic fate.
One scene dominates the rest. After an awkward sexual encounter, Guillaume addresses the class at his teacher’s behest. Feeling pours out. He articulates an emerging sensibility far beyond most teenage Salinger readers. All bar the subject stands to applaud. The pessimistic prediction wedded to his words seems unfounded, but it’s prescient. Linked in turmoil, he and Charlotte descend to their last ends, giving way – outrageously, unexpectedly – to Felix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), a young boy in summer camp about to meet his first love.
Genèse is askew. The asymmetrical narrative form works as counterpoint, but the musical motif doesn’t present antithesis between the tales. Laddish chants act as refrain, not a point of dissonance. Guillaume and Charlotte’s brutal denouements are too clipped given the abuses they endure. More resolution felt right. Instead, the return to childhood is a haunting false memory, in the same world but from a different life.
Genesis (Genèse) is released nationwide on 2018.
Read more reviews from our Locarno Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Locarno Film Festival website here.