Julie Keeps Quiet

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Julie Keeps Quiet
"The director shows how it’s not just Julie’s tennis skills that have been groomed by the coach but large aspects of her life." | Photo: Nicolas Karakastanis

Watching this calmly controlled and sharply focused debut feature from Leonardo ban Dijl put me in mind of Vania Turner’s recent Greek/British documentary Tack, which charts the story of sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou. She spoke out years after she had been abused by a coach, prompting a second, younger woman to come forward with her own separate experience and sparking the Greek arm of the #MeToo movement.

Questions of why a survivor would stay silent were among those raised as the court case for the younger woman went forward. Van Dijl’s film - co-written with Ruth Becquart - goes a long way to answering some of those, while asking plenty of its own. Belgian Julie (talented young tennis player Tessa Van den Broeck, making her debut) has the sort of focus many young athletes have, laying her energies down on the court on a daily basis - something Van Dijl emphasises in several sequences.

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She’s the current Belgian Tennis Federation hot property but when former prodigy Aline commits suicide, it sends shockwaves through the ranks and leads to the head coach Jeremy (Laurent Caron) being suspended while a probe is conducted. We see how this leaves Julie, at least initially, like a ship without a rudder. Everyone knows that she was Jeremy’s ‘favourite’ and so, without wanting to be explicit about it, those around Julie try to nudge her to talk. Why she might want to maintain her silence is easy to see, the situation is already disruptive and any accusation she might make only likely to rock both her life and her aspirations further.

Van Dijl keeps us with Julie constantly as she tries to work through the emotional turbulence on her own. Her phone still pings with messages from Jeremy, although he - and what he did - are carefully kept at a distance, we experience his past and current actions through the ricochet of Julie’s current experience. Shot with what appears to be mostly natural light by Nicolas Karakatsanis, the subdued result reflects the youngster’s mood.

Beyond the suggestion of sexual impropriety, the uneven power dynamic is evident. The director shows how it’s not just Julie’s tennis skills that have been groomed by the coach but large aspects of her life, including her subtle segregation away from the rest of the players, claimed to be to stop her exacerbating injury or for the good of the game. With Jeremy out of the way, we are able to see a quiet blossoming of Julie in terms of her social circle, even as she also contends with the additional pressures that a new coach Backie (Pierre Gervais) presents. By text message, her old coach tells her Backie will ruin her game if she’s not careful, in a typical intervention.

The adult world in general seems to be largely built on coercion and pressure, standing in contrast against the younger tribe of fellow tennis players and classmates who we meet who offer something more open-handed to the youngster and without strings attached.

As Julie practises for a piece of German language roleplay, she repeats, “I feel like a bird in the blue sky,” so that it becomes like a mantra. It’s not just German she is learning but a whole new way of articulating her experience. In Julie’s silence, she is finding herself.

Reviewed on: 21 May 2024
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Julie Keeps Quiet packshot
As the star player at an elite tennis academy, Julie’s life revolves around the game she loves. When her coach falls under investigation and is suddenly suspended, all of the club's players are encouraged to speak up. But Julie decides to keep quiet…

Director: Leonardo van Dijl

Writer: Ruth Becquart, Leonardo van Dijl

Starring: Tessa Van den Broeck, Grace Biot, Alyssa Lorette, Ruth Becquart, Koen De Bouw, Pierre Gervais, Claire Bodson, Laurent Caron

Year: 2024

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Belgium, Sweden

Festivals:

Cannes 2024

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