So what exactly ‘begins’ in Philippe Lesage’s Genesis? That’s a question that’s almost too deceptively simple to answer: love, of course (the film’s poster even presents its principle characters, Noée Abita’s Charlotte and Theodore Pellerin’s Guillaume, in the shape of an ‘L’), though unsurprisingly, this is a love that’s difficult to maintain. Lesage in fact brings attention to this by opening Genesis east of Eden, rather than in the garden itself, its characters living in the aftermath of innocence. The film’s dual structure initially follows the respective, fledgling relationships of Charlotte and Guillaume — siblings, whose naivete and innocence become apparent as they meet the inescapable dangers and subtle manipulations of the surrounding world. Lesage achieves both of these extremes through an exacting mise-en-scène that repeatedly centers his protagonists in the frame, and employs static shots and extended duration to great effect — particularly in the most startling moments, as when a character makes a strikingly miscalculated and earnest declaration of romantic feeling, or when another character becomes victim to the lures of city nightlife and drinking culture.
In these scenes, the powerhouse performances help articulate the extent of the forces that are ‘striking at the heels’ of the characters. And then comes Genesis’s second act, which serves as a radical departure from the first, and its latent cruelties; it serves as a (possibly atemporal) return to Eden. At this point, one could then reasonably ask: what is it that ‘begins’ here? And that question would be more difficult to answer — it’s hard to even comprehend Lesage’s intentions. Is this part of Genesis a retroactive, even mythical, affirmation of innocence? Is it an oblique warning, something like ‘protect one’s burgeoning moments of longing for another’? Or does this epilogue’s youthful, heterosexual romance betray Genesis? Following an opening that saw the protagonists’ attempts at non-traditional relationships and loves so completely dashed, this critique is a fair one. But Lesage’s sophomore feature ultimately furthers what’s proving to be a promising and thoughtful career — even as the film struggles under the weight of its lofty ambitions.
Published as part of August 2019’s Before We Vanish.