Genesis (Philippe Lesage, 2018)
What’s this all about?
Love can he heartening when you’re a teenager, especially if you’re an existentialist at such a young age.
We’re laughing at You
In every school, there’s always a guy who’s popular, not because he’s the jock, or the clown, or the rich boy in town, but because he’s annoying and nobody wants to be with him. Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin) is that kind of guy, a highly extroverted teenager who challenges his teachers, makes terrible jokes and treats most of his classmates as inferiors. He’s so full of himself the poor guy ignores he’s not that much liked at his boarding school.
Things get worse when Guillaume falls in love with his best friend, who might love him back or not, but because Guillaume’s deluded by his own ego, he’s convinced there’s definitely something between them. On top of that, there’s also a teacher who might be the antithesis of Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society and is always picking on him to the point of harassment. As if adolescence wasn’t traumatic enough…
Guillaume is such an unlikable character you’d expect something bad will happen to him. After all, this is a movie that’s similar to Michael Haneke’s style and worldview. When tragedy strikes, things get so awful, you wish you were wrong in the first place. Because even irritating people deserve our sympathy.
Hey, Soul Sister
Guillaume’s sister Charlotte (Noée Abita) doesn’t fare well either. After Charlotte dumps her douchebag boyfriend when he asks for an open relationship, because you never know, Charlotte starts dating a guy who might look much older than her but is surely not much more mature. Even though it's lead by a praiseworthy performance by Noée Abita, this second storyline is underdeveloped and dangerously feels like a cautionary tale for girls who don’t know how to choose their men.
But wait, there’s more!
Once Guillaume and Charlotte’s problems come to a conclusion, Lesage presents a third narrative, about two preteens who fall in love, that seems to come out of nowhere but brilliantly counterbalances the film’s grim worldview of the two previous stories. The episode might be bittersweet, and the link between these teens and the siblings is either vague or non-existent, but it does give Genesis a much more gratifying ending after so much pessimism.
Charlotte gets raped, and Guillaume is accused of raping a boy. Jeez. Not only both moments seem contrived, but they’re also boringly commonplace. You know bleak cinema needs to reinvent itself when it’s likely that women are going to be assaulted and gays unjustly attacked. Ending a film like this has become lazy now.
The ovation after Guillaume’s coming out in front of his whole class is brilliantly absurd and shows Lesage talent and control of the situation. But Genesis is a very nihilistic movie so, of course, his confession won’t be as welcomed as it seemed at the beginning, which comes as disappointingly clichéd. If you’re not trying to be realistic in the first place, you might as well go for broke and make the crush who rejected Guillaume the bullied one, or some other plot that doesn’t finish (again) with the gay teen as the victim.
Good companion pieces
Genesis is what it would be like if Xavier Dolan were into Michael Haneke’s movies.
Théodore Pellerin looks down on his classmates and the audience as well.
Nicolas Canniccioni’s cinematography gives Genesis a distant approach, but with some 80s vibes in-between.
The movie is better than the previous paragraphs make it sound, hence the positive rating. The way Lesage plays with symmetries, the very last image of Genesis and that Moment previously mentioned are just three examples of a director who’s clearly talented and eager to shake things up. He only needs to take more risks because even in art house movies you can play it safe.
Why am I watching this?
Selected for the main competition at the Locarno Film Festival.
For Your Consideration
Best Director: Philippe Lesage - Best Actor: Théodore Pellerin - Best Actress: Noée Abita - Best cinematography: Nicolas Canniccioni
Original title: Génese
Directed by Philippe Lesage | 2018 | Canada
Main cast: Théodore Pellerin, Noée Abita, Paul Ahmarani, Brett Dier, Pier-Luc Funk, Maxime Dumontier, Emilie Bierre, Édouard Tremblay-Grenier, Jules Roy Sicotte, Vassili Schneider