Why Genesis is a Coming-Of-Age Film We Need Right Now
Philippe Lesage’s Genesis (Genèse) had its premiere at the Locarno Festival back in 2018, yet, especially in this day and age, it is a must-see. Genesis won many awards, including the Golden Wolf (Festival of New Cinema, Montreal). It was also selected to be screened at the Museum of Modern Art, AFI FEST, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The movie stars Théodore Pellerin and Noée Abita as Guillaume Bonnet and Charlotte, teenage half-siblings simultaneously struggling with romance.
Similar to his narrative debut with The Demons from 2015, Québécois writer-director Philippe Lesage turned Genesis into a highly autobiographical story with additional elements of desire, self-discovery, curiosity, and betrayal. The mysterious world of adults shatters the idealism of his characters and makes many of their greatest qualities fade. Especially nowadays, coming-of-age movies that go way beyond their genre label with their boldness and complexity are of utmost importance. Maybe we, as adults, should sometimes take a breath, reflect, and make a sharp turn back to our roots. Being vulnerable, authentic, and honest might serve us better after all.
A Child Can Understand Complex Things
The film’s official synopsis reads:
“Three teenagers are shaken up by their first loves in the turmoil of their youth. At a time when others are conforming, they stand their ground and assert their right to love and be free, Guillaume, 16, and Charlotte, 18, are half-siblings and simultaneously struggles with romance; she is in a relationship with Maxime, but reels from his proposal that they change to an open relationship. So she moves from one relationship to the next (and always with the wrong guy), which has devastating consequences. Guillaume is a student at an all-boys boarding school and developing a romantic and sexual attraction to his classmate Nicolas.”
Lesage transcends the coming-of-age category by creating complex characters with intense inner lives and a wide emotional landscape. He goes against the notion that children cannot be just as or even more mature and emotionally intelligent as adults. Genesis, just like his former work in fiction, makes us look for and care for the children within ourselves, contemplate on virtues we tend to lose as we enter into adulthood. His protagonists might be young at age, but they are old at heart. They are charismatic, courageous, living their lives without building walls around themselves. They are ready to explore their identity, sexuality, and their environment. Lesage makes us wonder at what point we as kids get corrupted by the cynicism of this world.
“Youth is a period of life I find fascinating.” – the filmmaker told Art Here Art Now. He goes on to say:
“I think in a way we should stay young at heart. The problem is when we are young, we are so defenseless, but we welcome passion without being afraid of getting hurt, for instance. We should maintain that spontaneous, fresh take on the word (…) I think it’s a beautiful period. It is like falling in love with the wrong person. You set up a meeting, the person tells you ‘I’m going to be there.’ You go there, wait, but the person simply doesn’t show up. It makes you very upset. The next day, out of the blue, this person calls and says she or he is free to meet now. You drop everything and just run. You forget every bit of hurt. It’s being loving without trying to protect yourself in any ways. It’s brave and beautiful.”
Playing With Structure & Throwing Rules Out the Window
Lesage experiments with the form itself, breaking the narrative in order to shake us up, immersing us in an unusually naturalistic story. Our journey zigzags and lets us have plenty of space for exploration of our own instead of going straight from A to B. Even mundane things can lead to an epic journey. Therefore, Genesis does not use manipulative techniques and tools, trusts its audience, and engages in a two-way conversation with them.
“I like to break down narratives in all my films, I like to go beyond rules of traditional ways of telling stories. I enjoy messing up with the structure. You know, the ending of Genesis is a bit controversial, for example. Some people don’t get it, and I think that is wonderful. I mean, if you like parts of the film, I’m happy.” – the filmmaker added. The Canadian director paints with confident brushstrokes, allowing us to observe and experience the story by using a number of wide shots and the fewest cuts possible. His movies might be of unusual tempo to our eyes used to the wild pace of mainstream. It is no superhero movie for sure. Nevertheless, challenging our rapidly shrinking attention span may be a great thing.
The Beauty of Honesty
Lesage opened up about his inspirations by saying:
“As a filmmaker, it feels like it’s my duty to go back to my own hurt and shame. The more honest I am about those things, the more people can relate to my stories and that’s amazing. That’s another story, but there’s always a monster in my films. Hidden somewhere. The violent black beast. I’m interested in exploring the dark side that lies in all of us. Showing both the dark and the brighter side of my characters, without judging them.”
In many movies by the Canadian filmmaker, internal tension is the major drive for characters. He sets his focus on the complexity of inner life, not on character transformation. Only talking about reaction-triggered transformation would contribute to the telling of much less interesting and realistic stories for sure. Going back to personal experiences, making autobiographical movies is a common yet brave choice among auteurs.
It has especially paid off for many first-time filmmakers in the past. It is enough to think about widely celebrated industry professionals such as François Truffaut and The 400 Blows or Bill Douglas and My Childhood. Lesage also considers adulthood to be a less compelling period where too often hypocrisy beats honesty. In the interview, the filmmaker concludes:
“The thing is that by growing up, we become more stable and also more boring. Our stories become less interesting. Less honest. It’s a terrible thing to admit, but I don’t think honesty is trendy right now. For instance, we expect artists to open up about their childhood, share experiences, good or bad, express their sincere opinions, but if they decide to be really honest, it doesn’t always end up well for them. So they keep fabricating a fake and whitewashed image of them on social media and so on. We value collectively honesty, but everything in the society now is telling us not to be honest. Hypocrisy is paying off.”
Genesis is available to stream now. Watch it on IMDb TV, Kanopy, Plex – Free Movies & TV, The Roku Channel, The Roku Channel, Spectrum TV, Vudu Movie & TV Store, VUDU, Prime Video, or Apple TV on your Roku device.
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