First loves are often complicated, messy, disorientating and heart-breaking.
TW/CW: If you are planning on watching this movie, please be advised there is an explicit rape scene.
Quebecois writer and director Phillippe Lesage’s film Genesis (Genèse) is a structurally dynamic narrative which follows three young protagonists – one of whom is the central character of Lesage’s 2015 release, The Demons – as they struggle to understand love and its stipulations. Lesage’s storytelling captures elements of a first love, such as immediacy, awkwardness, unsurety and disillusionment in a jarringly honest, emphatic way. As a result, the film is wonderfully accessible and delivers a quiet kind of intensity that leaves its viewers reeling.
The bulk of Genesis’ run time focuses on two half-siblings, 16-year-old Guillaume (Theodore Pellerin) and the older Charlotte (Noee Abita). Guillaume attends a fancy, uptight boarding school for boys and is celebrated as the class clown by his peers. However, in his spare time, he reads books like The Catcher in the Rye and listens to The Smiths – both of which are synonymous with teenage angst and alienation – and seems to transform into a sensitive outsider. Guillaume begins struggling with his sexuality when he realises he has developed non-platonic feelings for his best friend, Nicolas (Jules Roy Sicotte), who remains oblivious to his friend’s longing gazes. As the film progresses, Lesage masterfully demonstrates the isolation of unrequited love several times. Guillaume’s character, once arrogant and playful, slowly becomes sombre as he accepts the depth of his emotions. During a house party at Nicolas’, Guillaume decides to venture out into the crowded dancefloor. Here, his popularity unveils as superficial; despite his smartass alecks, Guillaume has suddenly become an awkward, gangly teenager. He weaves through the dancing heterosexual couples to desperately find a place among them and realises he doesn’t have one. This scene is artful: the music, the darkened colours and the vivid expressions on Guillaume’s face painfully depict the harrowing consequences of falling in love.
Charlotte, meanwhile, is in college and in her first serious relationship with a solemn but geeky boy. Her faith in the foundation of their relationship is seriously shaken, however, when Maxime (Pier-Luc Funk) suggests they should have an open relationship. Soon, Charlotte meets a more rugged, experienced and older Theo (Maxime Dumontier), who is dismissive and unfulfilling. While Charlotte faces no barriers regarding her sexuality and partners who share it, her story is equally, if not more, heart-breaking than her brothers’. Charlotte’s struggle stems from the men she places her trust in: they are all exploitive and disregarding of her love. This eventually culminates to the final scene in Charlotte’s story; she is taken advantage of, and appallingly, the audience is denied any resolutions.
The weakest part of this film is the final fifteen minutes; unlike Charlotte and Guillaume’s narratives, which flow well together, Lesage makes a decision to include a character from The Demons, twelve-year-old Fèlix (Edouard Tremblay-Grenier), who experiences feelings for Beatrice (Emilie Bierre) at summer camp. This narrative is disjointed, especially after 110 minutes of the back and forth between the two siblings and provides little context. There isn’t enough time to develop these characters or get to know them, especially for those who haven’t previously watched The Demons. Plus, it doesn’t add much to the story.
Genesis’ charm is its versatility in showcasing love. Its characters are complex, sincere and believable. Guillaume and Charlotte are two individuals who are punished for having the courage to pursue love, yet Lesage, throughout their narratives, offers a meek hopefulness that everything will eventually be alright. A broken heart doesn’t have to stay broken, right?
Be sure to see Genesis and a succulent mix of other French content at this year's Alliance Français French Film Festival