TIFF 2015 - One of the most authentic and rigorously unsentimental portraits of adolescence

by Matt Fagerholm

(...) And now we’ve come to the best of the bunch, Guillaume Senez’s “Keeper.” It’s a Belgian/Swiss/French co-production that will assuredly be included on my list of the finest films I’ve seen in 2015. The fact that Senez is a first-time feature director makes his achievement here are all the more extraordinary. This is one of the most authentic and rigorously unsentimental portraits of adolescence in recent memory, tackling teenage crises that have been watered down in countless after-school specials, and revitalizing them with unaffected grace.

The script co-authored by Senez and David Lambert leaves every obvious, plot-driven scenario offscreen, focusing instead on the moments in between, which often tend to be what linger most vividly in our memories. Several years down the road, Maxime (Kacey Mottet Klein) may not remember the precise details that occurred when he quit his football trials in order to be with his girlfriend, Mélanie (Galatéa Bellugi), who is pregnant with their child. But he will certainly be able to recall every excruciating minute he spent waiting outside for his father—who also happens to be his coach—to pick him up. Senez allows this scene to unfold wordlessly, almost as if in slow-motion, and the effect is crushing.

Maxime and Mélanie are 15 years old. Neither of them planned on having a baby and both have no intention of giving it up, much to the chagrin of Mélanie’s mother, who doesn’t want to see her daughter make the same “dumb mistakes” she made (“Am I dumb mistake?” Mélanie fires back). Typical Hollywood formula would require this premise to rely on the “love conquers all” trope, ensuring that our heroes will remain true to their convictions and arrive at an ending as happy as it is improbable. What matters to Senez, above all, is the reality of his character’s circumstances. Their actions may be wrongheaded and even repellent at times, yet they never ring false for an instant, thanks in large part to the performances. Due to star next year in the latest André Téchiné picture, Klein somehow manages to make Maxime effortlessly magnetic, even when his behavior is at its most juvenile. And Bellugi, who carries more than a passing resemblance to “My Girl”-era Anna Chlumsky, is a flat-out revelation. It’s rare to see a performer her age capable of remaining fully in the moment as the camera holds on her face for minutes on end. That’s what happens toward the film’s final act, as Mélanie begins to feel the gravity of her decisions pulling her back to earth. The carefree escapism of her surroundings couldn’t be farther removed from her mounting sense of responsibility, and in the quiet of her mind, she makes a pivotal decision. No words are needed to convey this to the audience. Bellugi’s eyes tell us everything we need to know. “Keeper” is, quite simply, a keeper on every level.

by Matt Fagerholm
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