'Keeper': Locarno Review

Courtesy of Festival del Film Locarno
An impressive debut feature about a 15-year-old dad.

The feature debut of Francophone director Guillaume Senez stars Kacey Mottet Klein ('Sister') and newcomer Galatea Bellugi as a teenage couple faced with the possibility they might become parents.

A 15-year-old kid from Francophone Belgium dreams of becoming a soccer goalie but becomes a dad instead in Keeper, the striking feature debut of Franco-Belgian director Guillaume Senez. Offering yet more proof of the undeniable talent and on-screen charisma of young Swiss talent Kacey Mottet Klein, who earlier starred in Ursula Meier’s Sister as Lea Seydoux’s thieving kid sibling, this is a modest but beautifully controlled film that refrains from taking any moral high ground, instead simply capturing the events surrounding the discovery of the pregnancy and potential parenthood in a loosely realistic style. After a premiere in Locarno’s Cineasti del presente competition, this should attract small pockets of admirers in arthouse engagements in the French-speaking world, with some crossover potential to Francophile venues further afield.

The petite, round-faced Melanie (Galatea Bellugi) is clearly smitten with the angular, zit-sprinkled Maxime (Mottet Klein). In the film’s opening shot, somewhere outdoors, they mess around and Maxime tries to have Melanie go down on him before she comes back up to face him again and tells him that, well, oral sex isn’t really her thing. (Never mind, as audiences find out later, that she once did Maxime a favor and performed it on his best friend; she only did that because Maxime asked her to.)

Throughout the entire film, Senez stays close to his male protagonist and it’s clear from that first sequence that Maxime’s a hormonal teenager like his peers but also essentially a good guy. When faced with the sudden fellatio interruptus, there’s a look in his eyes that suggests that perhaps, because Melanie’s being so honest, he might like her even more; never mind that opportunity to get off, he wants her to be happy.

That Senez is able to suggest so much in just the opening sequence, and without a lot of dialogue, is already promising. And it’s exciting to see how much truth and complex, often conflicting emotions he manages to cram into practically each scene that follows. The couple’s first get-together after she’s dropped the bombshell announcement she thinks she’s pregnant via chat message is one of the film’s highlights, with Maxime wanting to be sure the damned pregnancy test’s working and that the child’s his. He’s in denial and struggling to be nice to Melanie, for whom it can’t be easy either, but the precise yet very small way Mottet Klein plays the scene, it’s clear he’s not mad at her, just mad at the prospect of having to deal with something much earlier than could reasonably be expected; his reaction is that of a child.

There’s a trip to a hospital that’s quickly halted and parents on both sides want to have their say: Maxime’s divorced mother, Nathalie (Belgium’s Catherine Salee), tries to be supportive of the potential decision to keep the child while Melanie’s single mother, Patricia (French actress Laetitia Dosch), is categorically against it. Thankfully, the complex emotions aren’t just reserved for Maxime, with Senez, who co-wrote the screenplay with screenwriter-director David Lambert (Beyond the Walls, All Yours), turning his supporting characters into more than just personifications of help or rejection, of keeping or getting rid of the baby. The reason behind Melanie’s mother’s rejection is a complicated one, for example, because she was a teenage mother herself, leading Melanie to believe her mother would have preferred an abortion rather than having had Melanie. By thus trying to protect her child from what she went through at all costs, this mother is hurting her daughter practically beyond repair.

But both the mothers and the pregnant girlfriend are always seen from a point-of-view close to soccer-enthusiast Maxime, who thinks he might have a chance to solve everything when he’s asked by a professional team to come for a one-week training in France. If he becomes a soccer millionaire, surely the baby and its mother will be fine? As a good kid, he wants to be involved in the decision, even though the doctors and shrinks the young couple are forced to see keep telling Melanie it is her decision alone.

Like in the duo’s decision to potentially let whether they can win a prize with a fairground claw crane decide whether they’ll keep the baby, there’s a touching naiveté to the way in which these children seem to want to find solutions to their problems. The beauty of the film lies in the fact it only observes and never judges: Because they are still children themselves, the only way they know to affront bigger-than-life problems is to either dream even bigger or to let fate take a random decision when faced with an impossible choice.

Being a French-language Belgian film that worries about babies and espouses a certain kind of realism immediately invites comparisons to the work of the Dardennes and especially their Palme d’Or winner L’Enfant. But Senez is much closer to some of the younger local filmmakers such as Joachim Lafosse, who are more interested in letting audiences make up their own minds about the thorny situations they explore rather than pushing the Dardennian idea — to put it bluntly — that poor(er) people are in desperate need of grace.

This also shows on a more technical level, with the free-moving camera, for example, nonetheless combined with the precision lighting of Swiss cinematographer Denis Jutzeler (who’s worked with Alain Tanner). It’s not about highlighting the characters’ gritty background as much as it is to highlight the decision-making process and how these decisions subsequently impact the characters. That’s why a late scene in which Salee takes Mottet Klein’s character into a motherly embrace such a powerful one: It is clear that these two love each other, no matter what.

Production companies: Iota Production, Louise Productions, Savage Film, Offshore

Cast: Kacey Mottet Klein, Galatea Bellugi, Catherine Salee, Sam Louwyck, Laetitia Dosch, Aaron Duqaine, Leopold Buchshaum, Cedric Vieira, Vincent Sornaga, Dominique Baeyens

Director: Guillaume Senez

Screenplay: Guillaume Senez, David Lambert

Producers: Isabelle Truc, Elisa Garbar

Executive producer: Olivier Abrassart

Director of photography: Denis Jutzeler

Production designer: Florin Dima

Editor: Julie Brenta

Sales: Be For Films

No rating, 95 minutes

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