Movie Review: Genèse (2018)

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I know he likes me but does he like me? How do I ask her to be my girlfriend? What does he mean we should stay together but see other people?

Three Québécois teenagers navigate their first twinges of love, the devastation of heartbreak, the mysteries of desire, and other affairs of the heart in Philippe Lesage's new film Genèse, which follows in the footsteps of his previous pictures Copenhagen: A Love Story and The Demons in blending together memoir and fiction.

Often letting the camera linger on the behavior and body language of its main characters and the way that it changes when they're in front of a classroom, crowd, or alone, Genèse uses sumptuous, languorous visuals and its moodily atmospheric soundtrack to deposit us into the heart of the film in a way that recalls the work of Sofia Coppola and Wong Kar-wai.

Drawing on his background as a documentary filmmaker to establish the film's setting in and around private schools, colleges, and camps in Quebec, Lesage paints a picture of three teens, different both on the surface and in personality, who are looking for love.

In the film's strongest and most emotionally arresting storyline, we meet Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin) who, though always up for a laugh or impression as the class clown at his private boys school, is rather introspective and insecure deep down. Reading J. D. Salinger and listening to The Smiths, Guillaume is the type of dreamy eyed boy we would've had a crush on in high school, only to discover later on that he has a complicated crush of his own that might redefine his entire life.

Startled when her first serious boyfriend tells her that he thinks they should be free to sleep with other people, Guillaume's older half-sister Charlotte (Noée Abita) is sent reeling, moving from one relationship to the next (and always with the wrong guy), which has devastating consequences as the film continues and editor Mathieu Bouchard-Malo weaves the two plots together.

Venturing away from the city into a nature based coda, we're introduced to the stand-in for the filmmaker in the form of adolescent Félix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), who faces the first stirrings of love for a girl he becomes enamored of at summer camp. Though still filmed in a lush, contemporary style by cinematographer Nicolas Canniccioni, there's something delightfully old fashioned about the pacing and mood of the final section of Genèse, which feels as though it could be played side by side with François Truffaut's frothy 400 Blows follow-up and tale of first love, Antoine and Colette.

A welcome shot of instantly relatable nostalgia, Genèse's last act is played in a higher, lighter key than the rest of the picture. Yet, coming as it does after a shocking act of violence takes place, which is immediately glossed over by ignoring the aftermath, it takes a minute for the film (as well as the viewer) to convincingly ease back into the innocent reverie of summer flirtation and romance.

Inspired by real stories of assault that had been shared with Lesage by friends, while the stark, matter-of-fact portrayal alarms us enough, the film’s real misstep was in leaving these characters much too quickly before we truly know how they are, which gives the scene a cavalier aura that I can't imagine the filmmaker had intended. Yet tonal and structural misstep aside, Genèse manages to fall back into place when its last young protagonist falls in love.

Using music — especially "Outside" by Tops as a motif throughout — much like Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats, Genèse boasts a superb soundtrack that you'll find yourself wanting to Shazam multiple times throughout the film. Translating the characters' inner lives in a way we can easily understand through not only its musical counterpoint but also the way in which the camera holds on the faces of the trio as they try to reconcile reality with their hearts, Lesage invites us to take the journey as well — walking beside the teens in good times and bad. Like a secret diary come to life with all of its highs and lows, and the little things we know that will stay with us forever, Philippe Lesage's Genèse feels like the cinematic equivalent of a memory.

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