Keeper begins with a graphic kissing scene complete with heavy breathing, loud tongue action and two pimply noses clumsily butting up against one another. It’s a comically universal portrayal of rampant teenage hormones, but it also speaks to the theme of the entire film; two children who haven’t the faintest clue of what they are doing. Keeper has two captivating leads in Kacey Mottet Klein and Galatéa Bellugi as Maxime and Mélanie, two fifteen year olds wrestling with an unplanned pregnancy and the vocal input of their well-intentioned parents.
Penned and directed by first-time filmmaker Guillaume Senez, the film is grounded by its unremarkable suburban backdrop and an age-appropriate cast. His modest direction consists of long, steady wide shots that afford his actors the freedom to move in and out of frame; the type of relaxed blocking that is more akin to theatre than something cinematic. Guillaume Senez and David Lambert’s script excels in its depiction of youthful ignorance and deluded optimism as Mélanie and Maxime oscillate between naivety and moments of thoughtful maturity.
Both teenagers react to the pregnancy in such a realistic fashion, trying to defer blame to the other. Mélanie and Maxime briefly consider termination, though neither heavily pursues the option. Even as the couple begin to entertain childish daydreams of what starting a family would look like, Senez’s script pulls back with a self-aware conversation that serves as a reminder for all that the teenagers would be sacrificing.
“Isn’t it something we should share?”
“There are still so many things we can share.”
After deciding to keep the baby, the couple are careful to hide the pregnancy from their parents until Mélanie is in her second trimester (and legally unable to have an abortion). Conflicted with the pregnancy and what a child will mean for his bourgeoning soccer career (he is the film’s titular Keeper), Maxime comes clean to his father (Sam Louwyck). This confession triggers one of the film’s most dynamic scenes as Mélanie’s mother (Laetitia Dosch) meticulously lays out her plan for Mélanie to undergo an illegal abortion in the Netherlands to Maxime’s mother (Catherine Salée) and father, with Mélanie and Maxime as mere bystanders to the conversation. Bellugi is beyond impressive here as she emphasizes Mélanie’s autonomy over her own body. Klein‘s most compelling scenes are when he is at his most juvenile, his most conflicted, while Bellugi’s strongest moments are when she is assertive, the actress deftly demonstrating a maturity beyond her years.
Mélanie’s mother, who experienced a similar situation when she was younger, warns her daughter not to put all of her faith in the father of her child. This notion continues to propel the plot and it’s in the latter half of Keeper that the supporting roles are expanded. In the hands of an inept filmmaker or lessor actor, Laetitia Dosch might have been relegated to the villain, but under her stubborn bravado, Dosch imbues her character with a fierce protectiveness that keeps her sympathetic to the viewer. Salée is the more traditionally compassionate mother, though the actress subtly teases a quiet sadness for her son that is much more internalised. Whilst it isn’t overtly discussed, both women are essentially single mothers, a thoughtful choice on Senez’s part that hints at a possible ominous future for their shared potential grandchild.
Although Keeper appears to toy with the idea of Maxime abandoning Mélanie, it is Mélanie who is plagued by doubt, culminating in a heart wrenching, bittersweet ending. Keeper is simplistic, dramatic storytelling at its finest and accomplishes the impressive feat of maintaining authentic teenage voices from start to finish.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10
••••• Screening at the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2017 •••••