Published Sep 13, 2015The Belgian teen pregnancy drama Keeper has been described as the anti-Juno. Where the zippy comedy that put Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody on the map hinted at some of the complications associated with high school students procreating, Guillaume Senez's feature debut dives in head-first, neither glamourizing the event nor making it any more melodramatic than it needs to be. He presents the issue logically, allowing the characters and the level of emotional maturity involved propel the story to its inevitable conclusion.
Prior to suspicions arising and the eventual peeing on a stick, Maxime (Kacey Mottett Klein) and Mélanie (Galatea Bellugi) are conventional hormonal teens. They're groping each other whenever they get the opportunity and taking preliminary stabs at what commitment actually means. Maxime is preoccupied with his burgeoning soccer (football, in European terms) career, mostly making time for his girlfriend to satisfy certain urges. He's as committed as can be expected of a 15-year-old boy, while Mélanie appears to be somewhat more infatuated, pointing out that she doesn't care for performing fellatio only after participating in the act several times. Moreover, when she announces she's pregnant, Maxime accuses her of sleeping with his best friend, even though her only engagement with him was a blowjob she reluctantly performed at Maxime's request.
What Senez captures most effectively here is the vacuum of idealism and innocence between the young lovers. Maxime is certain that his athletics will lead to financial success, even though he's only in the audition stages. Though we, as an audience, can see the imbalances and flaws in their relationship — Mélanie has a tendency to do whatever her boyfriend wants (including not having an abortion), and their tendency to run to others for emotional validation suggests communication issues — they're oblivious and inexperienced. There's a discomforting feeling that stems from just how realistic their interactions and their decision-making pans out. From their perspective, they have the situation figured out and are entirely capable of behaving as adults. Moreover, Mélanie's mother, a wilful, brutally honest woman (possibly the only true voice of reason in the film) had her daughter when she was a teen as well.
Beyond demonstrating a knack for capturing the truth of an uncomfortable situation, Senez makes the interesting decision to focus moreso on Maxime's experiences, using the template as an ersatz coming-of-age tale in which fantasy and reality crash together. The slight ways in which his outlook and demeanour change throughout the film — he gradually becomes more assertive and less interested in youthful diversions — do help contextualize the instigator of conflict beyond that of a general social issue. Senez is telling a story about growing up and the conflicting desire to be taken seriously yet evade real responsibility.
The consistent observational style and adherence to a character-driven format is ultimately what ensures this astute drama succeeds. And, in a way, a late-film extended close-up of Mélanie taking in the experience of clubbing while pregnant encapsulates the themes and the tone of Keeper perfectly — just watching her realize the impossibility of holding onto her youth is quite stirring and telling.
It's moments like these and a dedicated vision — anchored by effective performances and solid chemistry — that give Keeper its strength. It's an impressive debut that captures the whirlwind of adolescence without judgment or political posturing.