Guillaume and Charlotte are teenage half-siblings simultaneously struggling with romance. Told in parallel, with the connection between the respective characters initially concealed, both characters put their hearts on the line and make dumb choices.
Charlotte (Noée Abita, ‘Ava’), the elder sibling, is in a relationship with her dorky boyfriend, Maxime (Pier-Luc Funk), but reels from his suggestion that they change to an open relationship. Seemingly on a spur of the moment, she embarks on a fling with Théo, a swarthier older man that she meets while out dancing to Le Tigre with girlfriends at a nightclub. He has no respect for women, and Charlotte finds herself toyed around, used, and neglected by various men throughout the short window into her life that ‘Genesis’ views.
Meanwhile, Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin, ‘Boy Erased’) is a smartarse student with a penchant for impersonations at an all-boys boarding school. Guillaume is sardonic and self-possessed (a teacher later simply refers to him as a “bully") but not immune to adolescent awkwardness. Outside of class, he’s shy and sensitive. At a party hosted by his best mate Nicolas (Jules Roy Sicotte), horny boys and girls gradually all fall into the arms of their dance partners. Guillaume, meanwhile, looks like he doesn’t quite know what to do with his lanky self as he navigates through a sea of interlocking bodies on his way out. Later we find out that Guillaume is developing a romantic and sexual attraction to Nicolas.
Canadian director Philippe Lesage ('Copenhague: A Love Story'), in collaboration with cinematographer Nicolas Canniccioni, has a distanced, gliding camera style. Lesange has a background in documentary film-making and he lets the compositions of his narrative features do most of the talking. The naturalistic lighting and colours bring out the essential innocence of the story, while a hazy sheen adds a retro quality to the dreamy imagery. Also noteworthy is the camerawork itself, which languidly shifts its attention from one subject to the next, never too hurried to tell the viewer where to look.
Lesage also knows how to write meaningful late-night conversations and public declarations of love, with a sensitive ear for emotional truths. There are scenes where you see Charlotte and Guillaume making potentially self-destructive choices (always at night, at a party and the boarding school), but you understand innately where they are coming from and can’t imagine them behaving any differently.
Lesage also knows how to write meaningful late-night conversations and public declarations of love, with a sensitive ear for emotional truths.
Both Pellerin and Abita are tremendously charismatic in their roles. Guillaume’s storyline builds towards a piercingly beautiful monologue late in the film which Pellerin delivers with heartbreaking matter-of-factness. Abita doesn’t have that single big grandstanding scene, but her presence speaks of both sensuality and fragility.
The ending of Charlotte and Guillaume's storylines verges on crushing... but then comes the film’s surprising and unusual coda. Without any explanation, the last 20 minutes or so explores an achingly tentative first romance at an adventure camp which shifts the focus to the story of Félix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), the lead character of Lesage's 2015 debut film ‘The Demons’. It’s hard to decide what to make of this part, as it goes on a bit too long and appears, for all narrative purposes, unrelated to the body of the film. It’s as if Lesage has to end on this tender note to remind us love is possible, and worth the sting of heartbreak.
‘Genesis’ is not a coming-of-age movie that works hard to send a message or offer any solution to our woes and regrets, it just reminds you how something you would shrug off today used to be so earth-shattering when you were a teenager. It’s a poignant and extremely well-crafted testament to the sometimes terrifying beauty of young love.