I haven’t really had a chance to look properly at the latest mini-season of films from YourScreen, the Cheltenham-based streaming service. It’s always worth a look, because it is making the effort to find interesting foreign-language and independent films.

Anyway, this morning I watched Keeper (2015), a Belgian French-language feature that is available until the end of this month. I very much liked it. It’s a simple, bittersweet story about two 15-year-old children who fall in love and make a baby. This most natural event, given the facts of biology and the sex-driven world in which today’s children live, brings all manner of complications and unkindnesses upon them.

This was Brussels-based director Guillaume Senez’s first full-length film and he was 36 when he made it. But it has a real freshness about it, not least because his two leads not only are very young, they look it. Maxime (Kasey Mottet Klein) is desperate to become a professional goalkeeper (hence the title) and his head is filled with dreams of riches and glamour. He has two parents, well-off liberals who drive a Prius and try to do the right thing. Mélanie (Gallatea Bellugi) is much poorer, herself the result of an unwanted teenage pregnancy.

The pair are taken aback when Mélanie conceives, and Maxime reacts badly. ‘Is it mine?’ he asks. But then, on a visit to the fairground, he changes his mind, and for a while the pair are euphoric about the process they have embarked upon. At the same time, though, he learns that he has secured a trial with a top French team, which threatens to lead him in another, more selfish direction.

The pair keep their secret for a while, but then their mothers find out: they both live at home. Mélanie’s mother is adamant that the girl should have an abortion, to avoid repeating her ‘mistake’ in life. Maxime’s mother is not so hasty. There is an uncomfortable scene where the options are discussed. It is already too late to legally abort the child in Belgium. Mélanie says she wants the child. ‘It’s my baby,’ she says. But her mother snaps back: ‘It’s your baby, but it eats my food.’

After the first scan, though, abortion is no longer an option. Mélanie goes to a kind of mother-and-baby unit, where she meets other pregnant girls and is taught the rudiments of childcare. Maxime, meanwhile, fails his goalkeeping trial, unable to concentrate. I will not continue with the plot summary.

The director is a disciple of Mike Leigh, among others. He auditioned nearly 100 boys and girls, looking for a pair who could play a convincing couple: and these do. We believe they are in love: defiant and frightened by turn. They are adolescents, but still children, really: Maxime goes to sleep alongside his mother when he needs comfort. Together with the more seasoned professionals who play the parents, the young cast were not shown a script. Like Leigh, Senez uses an improvisational process, working from a 20-page synopsis and giving the actors guidance rather than a finished screenplay. The result is a kind of tremulous, uncertain naturalness in which the characters seem to be living through their dilemmas rather than enacting them.

Simple human stories, made by young people struggling with real concerns, are the hope of cinema for me, but I note that this film, made in 25 days, has apparently taken only $30,010 at the box office since its release. Senez has made one more since, Our Struggles, which received festival plaudits and has earnt $1.7m. His latest effort is an unreleased 14 minute short.

I heartily recommend this film because, while modest and unpretentious, it goes to the heart of our animal existence: love, mating, birth. What should be the greatest source of joy and comfort here becomes mired in complication: responsibility, guilt, and the pressures of family and society.

I will let the director explain himself:

Maxime, who has barely left childhood himself, attempts in every way possible to convince Mélanie to keep their baby. Beyond being a story that I’m enthusiastic about, I felt the need to film adolescence in all its beauty and complexity. I wanted to show these teenagers’ fragility, their lightheartedness, their carefree nature and above all their love.

We follow this touching story from Maxime’s perspective. I decided to film his journey into fatherhood, for as a father of two children it is what intrinsically speaks to me most.

Through these young teenagers, I’m seeking to share an emotion, to share the way things feel just as they are, without over-explaining them. Far from the idea of making a message film that campaigns for a certain point of view, I just wanted to lm the protagonists, follow them and become attached to them.

I’m not looking for originality, but for balance and accuracy as concerns one point of view in this masculine and adolescent journey; also, truthfulness in interpretation within a form of realistic cinema. I don’t give the actors a script, we work together to find an emotional authenticity. I don’t direct my actors, I accompany them. I don’t try to construct characters within a frame, but with the intention of revealing characters and their existence well beyond the frame, to uncover a story emanating from real life in a true to life, honest way, which is so seldom captured.

In that, he has certainly succeeded. Keeper is not the greatest film in the world. There are a few clichéd moments. Mostly, though, it is a delightful, gentle antidote to the stupid bombast of so much mainstream film currently on offer.

Also on YourScreen

The new films on YourScreen are:

  • Pari, a Greek/French feature about an Iranian woman seeking her mission son in Athens,
  • The Reports on Salem and Saleem, a German/Palestinian film about a couple conducting an affair in the dangerous Middle East,
  • Nevia, a rather good Italian film about a girl living in a kind of shanty town made of shipping containers, and
  • Games People Play (2020), a Finnish film about a gathering of old friends for a drunken 40th birthday party (is there any other kind?).

I hope to have a look at those when I have some time.

Remember, readers of this site and newsletter get a 25 per cent discount off the £9.99 asking price if they use the code FOJM when going through the shopping cart. I don’t get anything for this. I just like good films.

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