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The Atoning (2017)

 The AtoningA melancholic drama with horror and Coming-of-Age motifs intertwined – that’s the best way to describe Michael Williams‘s 2017 film The Atoning.

The story is intriguing and genuinely captures one’s attention, but that will only happen if one is patient enough to struggle through the first thirty or so minutes during which the action drags, the acting feels subpar and the whole atmosphere feels somewhat sterile and unreal. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I was bored throughout most of the movie and was contemplating bashing it in my review, saying that sometimes an intriguing cover art can mislead the viewers — when the story took a turn for the better. The film, while echoing influences of other flicks (such as the one with Haley Joel Osment in the lead role), became engaging and intriguing, which is why I’d like to encourage any potential viewers to give the story a chance to develop (not easy yet a rewarding task).

Cannon Bosarge as Sam
Cannon Bosarge as Sam

The Coming-of-Age aspect of the movie is due to the fact that the only character that the audience seems to develop genuine care for and concern about is the one portrayed by Cannon Bosarge, who plays a young boy of ten years old who is trying to figure out why his parents have started acting in an unusually weird way.  Even if there are times when the story can’t focus on just one main character, the magnetic presence that Cannon brings to the screen is what has the potential to save the plot from its sluggish pace.

The Atoning Official Trailer

Jump scares, whispers, creaking doors (a ridiculous amount), and spooky visuals occasionally introduce the horror to the story – but it never fully transforms the film into an effective horror flick, which is fine as long as it remains an intriguing drama with spiritual messaging of buried secrets and the confrontation of coming to terms with the harsh realities of life.

 

The Atoning (2017)
In short
The Atoning is a melancholic drama with horror and Coming-of-Age motifs intertwined.
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Reader Rating0 Votes
3.6
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The Young Chief Winnetou ( 2022)

“Our eyes can deceive us , but not out heart “

The Young Chief Winnetou

Do children these days still play Cowboys and Indians? Or is their time now all spent in front of phones and other screens?

Many people have treasured memories of childhood days when our imaginations transformed the backyard into the open plains and rugged terrain of the Wild West, complete with Cowboys riding horses, Indians riding on buffalo, and all sorts of other exciting adventures. And who has not heard of Karl May’s famed hero – the young Apache chief Winnetou?

When I was a kid, Mays’ books were among my favorites and still are. Yet even if you have not read anything by the German author, the 2022 movie titled The Young Chief Winnetou is guaranteed to evoke a lot of nostalgia and inspire a whole new generation of kids should they get the opportunity to watch it. 

Mika Ullritz as Winnetou and Milo Haaf as Tom Silver
Mika Ullritz as Winnetou and Milo Haaf as Tom Silver

Granted The Young Chief Winnetou is first and foremost a children’s film, so an adult audience will have to see it with a certain mindset. But even when one has to suspend his disbelief at times, the story still manages to teach children about the importance of courage, determination, and standing up for what you believe in.

The Young Chief Winnetou ( 2022) official trailer in German 

The Young Chief Winnetou shares some common traits with other German films made for children: lush visuals, a sympathetic young cast, great location (this film was shot in the Spanish region of Andalusia where many westerns have been filmed in the past), and a humorous vibe. The actors in the lead roles, Mika Ullritz as Winnetou and Milo Haaf as Tom Silver, are both cute as buttons, which is a plus for any children’s film, but also keeps one well aware that the film is primarily aimed at a very young audience. 

In this film, the adults are relegated to supporting roles, while the children are the ones who live through an exciting and perplexing adventure. The friendship between the young thief (Silver) and the son of the Apache chief — and the trials and tribulations they go through — are filled with an adventurous spirit that is a joy to watch. Of course, you can’t expect anything of the sort of what Winnetou & Old Shatterhand go through in their legendary adventures, but if you have the imagination and will to picture them as kids, this might just fit the bill. 

While I yearn to watch a harsh realistic story based on Karl May’s novels, this film with child actors is an enjoyable way to fill one’s time. The atmosphere in the film is not that different from those of other Coming-of-Age children’s films I have seen and reviewed on the site: namely Winnetou’s Son (2015), Tom und Hacke (2012), and Devil’s Kickers (2010). The Coming-of-Age motifs, while minimal, are still present and I don’t hesitate to recommend the film – especially to a young kid who will hopefully get inspired to use his imagination and go play outside.

 

The Young Chief Winnetou ( 2022)
In short
The Young Chief Winnetou has lush visuals, a sympathetic young cast, great location (this film was shot in the Spanish region of Andalusia where many westerns have been filmed in the past), and a humorous vibe.
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Reader Rating1 Vote
3.5
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The film at IMDB

Our Own Land (2021)

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Our Own Land (Original title: Nous n’irons plus en haut), released in 2021, is a prime example of a Coming-of-Age short film whose story lingers in the viewer’s mind long after the final credits have rolled.

Atmospheric and beautifully shot, it tells the story of Jacob and Theo, two young brothers aged eight and twelve, who are being left alone in a big farmhouse in the peaceful Breton countryside.

We observe their interaction while trying to decipher the plot. To achieve that, one has to pay attention to a variety of subtle details hidden in their conversations and actions. As challenging as that might be, it is a rewarding process thanks to the sincere and poignant acting performances of Noe and Swann Vallee (real-life brothers who portray Jacob and Theo).

In addition, the camerawork — which is marked by an abundance of close-up shots, long-range pans, nature,  fuzzy highlights, and attention to detail — further draws the viewer into the drama.

By the final scene, one has a pretty good idea of what has happened. Yet different viewers may reach different conclusions based on their own predicaments and personal experiences. Thought-provoking and emotionally powerful, the film is a gem of Coming-of-Age cinema and receives my highest recommendation. 

Trailer 

The film at IMDB 

Best Christmas Movies with a Coming-of-Age Theme

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In the Coming-of-Age genre, there are a lot of movies that have been made. Not all of them make a great Christmas movie. Some people might say that a Christmas holiday is the best time to watch a family comedy or an old classic.

Christmas movies are always a good distraction from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite Coming-of-Age Christmas movies, so grab some hot cocoa, and let’s get started!

1. A Christmas Story (1983)

While primarily an American Christmas movie, A Christmas Story also has the reflections of an older Ralphie Parker on how his perspective has changed since a very important Christmas when he was 9 years old. 

 Available at Amazon Video     

2. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (1997)

A humane, heart-warming Christmas movie – without a trace of commercialism. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey will appeal primarily to adult audiences, even though it’s based on a children’s book. Yet, the story is family-friendly. So, potentially, the whole family may enjoy it.

3. Christmas Story (2007)

Chrismas Story is an engaging heart-warming family film perfect for your holiday viewing. I also believe the film will be highly beneficial to parents whose kids are curious about Santa. Instead of showing them some sugar-coated film filled with stereotypes, show them Christmas Story.

watch it for free on amazon

4. Wishin’ and Hopin’ (2014)

Based on a best-selling novel by Wally Lamb, Wishin’ and Hopin’ is a delightful comedy flick with a cast led by its adorable young protagonist: 10-year-old Felix Funicello. It is advertised as a Christmas film, but it can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Such uplifting stories are always welcome to brighten up our everyday lives.

Available at Amazon Prime Video

5. A Boy Called Christmas (2021)

Based on Matt Haig’s best-selling novel, this tells the story of a boy who loves toys, befriends a reindeer, and assists some elves. “A Boy Called Christmas” is a regal origin story for Santa Claus, complete with a star-studded cast, sumptuous visuals, and some somber details to keep it from being too sugary.

Available at Netflix

6.The Christmas Project (2016)

This film chronicles the Buckley family, which consists of four brothers. Every year they have a practice of covertly giving gifts to a different family, and 11-year-old Matthew is disappointed to learn that his mother chose the family of the worst bullies. While you can probably guess what happens next, it’s a lovely reminder that during this time of year, everyone deserves a little empathy.

Available at Amazon Video

7.A Christmas Story 2 (2012)

With a teenager in the lead role, the Coming-of-Age tribulations are inevitable. Falling in love for the first time, first work experience, and growing up to understand that sometimes giving can be more rewarding than receiving – all of those are part of Christmas Story 2.

Available at Prime Video

8. A Christmas Carol (1938)

In one haunted evening, embittered old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who has soured on the world and his fellow man, learns the true spirit of Christmas from three ghostly visitors. After moving visions of long-dead happiness, of past and present remorse and a fearful glimpse into the future, Scrooge receives the chance to change his life for the better on Christmas morning.

9. The Boy who saves Christmas (1998)

We all need to believe in miracles, especially in the run-up to Christmas. Jeremiah did so by sending a letter to Santa with a very unusual request. But Santa Claus himself has to help. Because suddenly Atnas, his brother, appears. He wants to disrupt the holiday with his malware. The only one who can help kind Santa is Jeremy …

10. Lost Christmas (2011)

A screen adaptation of the novel of the same name by David Logan. The Christmas TV movie tells the story of Anthony, a mysterious stranger who suddenly wakes up in the middle of the street and does not know who he is, where he is, or what to do now. But, he has one extraordinary ability – to find the lost.

 

Softie (2021)

In Samuel Theis‘s 2021 film Softie (Original Title: Petite nature), ten-year-old Johnny (Aliocha Reinert) lives in the German border town of Forbach with his mother, distant elder brother, and young sister. His quiet appearance and natural timidity conceal the fact that he is a crucial cog in the family’s wheel. Since his mother has an alcohol problem and spends much of her time socializing with men, Johnny is the one who is responsible for taking care of his younger sister.

When a new teacher arrives at Johnny’s school, there are some changes, but they aren’t always improvements. The teacher takes Johnny under his wing after witnessing the fallout from Johnny’s mother’s rage and realizing the young child is both intelligent and sensitive. As Johnny continues to explore the uncharted waters of sexual awakening, he will inevitably make incorrect assumptions in pursuing the affection he so desperately needs.

Softie Trailer

While the story is undoubtedly a Coming-of-Age one, given its focus on the loss of innocence and the age of the main protagonist, the relatively weak character development does little to engage or intrigue. That’s unfortunate, as Aliocha Reinert delivered a natural performance while his looks in front of the camera revealed insights about his character’s personality. 

Characterization through appearance is the director’s chosen approach, which mostly works. When it doesn’t, one has the continuity of time to blame. The best scene in the film featuring Reinert is at the film’s finale and by then viewers would have already picked up most of the hints.

Softie reminds me of Philippe Claudel’s A Childhood, due to its portrayal of a marginalized family and growing up prematurely. As in most similarly themed Coming-of-Age films, the father figure is absent or his role is filled with temporary replacements. Despite those similarities, the story does not feature many cliches, and the small amount of controversy makes the story it tells stand out.

 

Softie (2021)
In short
The story does not feature many cliches, and the small amount of controversy makes the story it tells stand out
Character/Acting
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Storyline/Screenplay
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Reader Rating0 Votes
3.2
Our rating

Hunt (2018)

Hunt (original title: Jakt),  by Gjertrud Bergaust, is a daring short film with a compelling and controversial narrative and is a perfect example of a heartbreaking Coming-of-Age drama.

Asgaut (Havid Kringstad Hagen), the film’s protagonist, is a 14-year-old kid whose idyllic day of dyeing his hair and strolling around the Norwegian countryside is abruptly interrupted by a group of older lads. I was expecting again another film about bullying, but the plot turned out to be far more complex than I had anticipated.

Asgaut gets some much-needed assistance from a nearby farmer named Kjell (played by Cato Skimten Storengen), and the two end up being good friends. The teenage boy takes pleasure in lending a hand to his newfound friend on the farm. Kjell becomes a role model and a father figure to the young boy, who thrives as a result of the friendship and mentoring.

Asgaut helping at Kjell`s farm
Asgaut helping at Kjell’s farm

You might think you know where this narrative is going, but you’ll be taken aback by some truly terrible turns of events. The film’s devastating climax provides a moral dilemma that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Even though prejudice and injustice are the primary concerns explored in the film, there is a strong emphasis placed on the characters. Everything seems genuine, and a large part of the credit for that goes to Havid Kringstad Hagen’s convincing performance as Asgaut. His character is stigmatized and has difficulty finding his place in the world, which contributes significantly to his acute sense of vulnerability.

The most impressive aspect of Hunt is undoubtedly its gripping story. When the story finished, it was difficult for me to refrain from passing judgment since I disagreed with the resolution of the ethical dilemma that a particular character had to face.

 

The film is available for free in Norwegian and on Amazon Prime Video (with English subtitles).

Hunt (2018)
In short
Hunt (original title: Jakt), by Gjertrud Bergaust, is a daring short film with a compelling and controversial narrative and is a perfect example of a heartbreaking Coming-of-Age drama.
4.8
Our rating
More about the film

Close ( 2022)

Lately, a lot of quality Coming-of-Age indie cinema is being produced in Belgium. The latest of these is a film I came upon recently. What I had read about it, the poster artwork and opening sequences of Lukas Dhont‘s 2002 drama Close did little to prepare me for the profound emotional experience that was to follow.

The first third of the movie follows the friendship between Leo (Eden Dambrine) and Remi (Gustav De Waele), both 13 years old. We are treated to a wonderful depiction of their friendship as they go on bike rides, engage in a wrestling match, and talk about their hopes and goals for the future. Each one has created his own perfect world and they can fully understand the other’s subtleties. The Belgian director’s camerawork captures every nuance of the characters’ interactions, from fleeting glances to full-body movements.

As they begin the new school year together, their classmates have begun to notice how close they are to one another and have begun to speculate about their relationship. Léo begins to distance himself from Rémi, who is clueless to the reason. As a result, a conflict arises as Rémi is heartbroken when Léo grows distant since he doesn’t know why they’ve grown apart.

The movie then takes a dramatic turn that is shocking not only for the characters but for the audience as well.

Leo (Eden Dambrine)
Leo (Eden Dambrine)

Some of the story’s most prominent themes include friendship, peer pressure, societal conformity, as well as betrayal and grief. Its universal elements make it easy to relate to the protagonists. Who doesn’t remember their childhood best friend?

Mine would always include me in the starting lineup for soccer games, despite my less-than-stellar skills behind the ball, and vice versa. By the time summer was through, I’d be laying in bed, yearning for the days we’d spent together. A friendship is a type of love, or vice versa, although intimacy need not always be accompanied by romantic feelings.

The entire cast offers fantastic performances, yet it is Eden Dambrine  — whose role evolves from being dreamy, to disconnected, to vulnerable — who is worth a special mention.

Remi (Gustav De Waele)
Remi (Gustav De Waele)

Both young performers are newcomers to the cinema and once again they provide a performance that outshines many of their seasoned colleagues.

Visually, the film succeeds thanks to its use of contrasting bright colors to depict gentle and emotional scenes bursting with emotional sentiment, a shaky camera to emphasize distress, and emotional close-up shots on the eyes of the protagonist, all of which convey a great deal of intimacy without the need for dialogue or additional explanation.

The sound design is also exceptionally well crafted, and while the score does not draw attention to itself, the amplified and muffled noises heighten the emotional state of the young protagonists in the film, which in turn greatly enhances the effect that the scenes have on the audience.

For all its emotional intensity, Close moves at a glacial pace, reminiscent of a low-budget independent film. It might be predictable at times, but it still provides a great, if somewhat downbeat, viewing experience.

 

Close ( 2022) Trailer 

Close ( 2022)
In short
It might be predictable at times, but it still provides a great, if somewhat downbeat, viewing experience.
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Storyline/Screenplay
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Reader Rating1 Vote
4.7
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Dealer (2021)

Writing about Coming-of-Age cinema for the past fifteen years I have seen thousands of flicks, which makes finding a title that offers a distinct, original, and provocative story somewhat of a challenging task. In light of this, I feel compelled to recommend  Dealer, a Coming-of-Age drama written and directed by Belgian filmmaker Jeroen Perceval

Perceval’s controversial debut follows the story of Johnny (Sverre Rous), a fourteen-year-old child who roams the streets of Antwerp, dealing drugs alongside a few friends of similar age. Johnny comes from a broken home; his mother is an artist who teeters on the edge between insanity and brilliance, and he was never told his father’s name. Since he does not have a safe place to stay during the week, the youngster spends his time at a youth home, only visiting his mother on the weekends. 

Johnny ( Sverre Rous ) and his mother ( Veerle Baetens)
Johnny (Sverre Rous) and his mother (Veerle Baetens)

Given his upbringing, it’s not surprising that the child looks up to Luca (Bart Hollanders), a modern-day Fagin who has created loyalty and a sense of community among kids by offering them the chance to make quick money and join a cool crowd through the sale of illegal drugs. 

Johnny’s life takes an unexpected turn when he crosses paths with the well-known actor Anthony Ophoff (Ben Segers), who eventually becomes a customer of his. A twisted friendship develops between the two, and fresh prospects appear to open for Johnny, who hopes to be an actor as renowned as Anthony – despite the latter’s harsh warning that things are not always as they appear: 

“Let me tell you something, gangster. Just cos everyone knows you, you drive a flashy car and have got lots of dough, doesn’t mean you’re not a stupid wanker.“

The warped bond between the two transforms Anthony into a father figure for the young boy, but he is no better a role model than Luca, whom Johnny had looked up to until that point. And Luca isn’t about to give up on his finest dealer.

The contemporary narrative of the film Dealer, which is based on the writer and director’s own adolescence, struck a chord with me on a personal level. The fact that I was a part of the clubbing scene myself and knew some dealers of the same age as Johnny back then, made the film’s tale more personal to me. Child dealers are not a new phenomenon in movies after all. For example, you may recall the movie The Children of Times Square from 1986. 

However, the film’s raw and compelling plot isn’t the only thing that makes Dealer a masterpiece of Coming-of-Age cinema. Its urban settings are spot-on, and the film’s technical aspects are top-notch as well —  including the photography, direction, and score.

The film’s lighting, including the use of light reflections and neon-illuminated sequences, creates a compelling atmosphere, while the use of color in the film’s compositions adds depth and significance to the action. At numerous moments, the mood is enhanced by using low-key, high-contrast lighting. Most of the sequences are shot at eye level, which creates a sense of intimacy by putting the audience in the same position as the characters on screen.

The majority of the sound in the movie is diegetic, which helps us get a sense of the clubbing culture through a combination of pulsing electronic music, gab, and hip-hop. It also helps us get a sense of the beauty and weirdness of art through a scene in which Johnny and his mother are enjoying a classical piece.

Sverre Rous

Dealer is first and foremost a Coming-of-Age film, as it offers a portrayal of our society through the eyes of a child. The young protagonist’s interactions with the film’s interesting, real-life characters — some sympathetic, some repulsive — help reveal the evolving nature of his character and his perspective on the world and its inhabitants. 

The film lacks any kind of narration and it does not need one as the interactions between the characters with honest true-to-life dialogue delivered in a natural manner reflect not only on their personas but on those of the moviegoers as well. Even though I am normally against providing warnings for content and events that may act as a cautionary function for young audience members, for this film it is necessary to point out that some of the scenes are highly upsetting and, as a result, may not be appropriate for young viewers to watch. 

Dealer ( 2021 ) – Trailer

Engaging, brutally honest, and intriguing, Dealer left a big impression on me by being as different as possible from the escapism-focused entertainment that is so prevalent in today’s culture. As a result, it receives my highest recommendation and wins my full endorsement.

 

Dealer (2021)
In short
Dealer offers a distinct, original, and provocative story that is engaging, brutally honest, and intriguing. It receives this reviewer's highest recommendation and full endorsement.
5
Our rating
More about the film

Boyplay (2017)

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In Edgar Burgos‘s short film, Boyplay, a group of children, fed up with the bullying they receive from their older peers, challenge them to a game of life or death.

An elderly man reflects on his life and recalls how the resolution of the quarrel with his older peers influenced the path he ultimately took in his journey through life.

The ability to juxtapose the recent past with the present day is a surefire way to get people to pay attention. As an art form, Boyplay`s cinematography, in conjunction with the gloomy opening sequence, successfully draws one’s attention. Along with the underlying principle of fighting for one’s dignity, the movie devotes a large amount of screen time to the issue of bullying.

 

To cast the actors for the short movie, a lack of professional experience was something the casting directors sought rather than avoided. Consequently, the members of the film’s youthful cast deliver powerful and naturalistic performances.

Boyplay is a well-executed short film, but the narrative lacks cohesion, particularly towards the conclusion.

 

My Extraordinary Summer with Tess (2019)

Featuring a narrative infused with summer nostalgia and rites of passage, Steven Wouterlood`s My Extraordinary Summer with Tess is a perfect flick for a hot lazy summer afternoon.  

The lead protagonists of the movie are a little boy named Sam, played by Sonny Coops Van Uteren, and a tomboyish girl named Tess  (Josephine Arendsen). Sam is spending his summer break with his family on a beautiful island in the Netherlands. 

In order to get acclimated to living by himself, he makes the decision to shut himself away for a few hours every day. However, when he finally does meet the fearless Tess, his plan is derailed.  This summer will mark a turning point in both of their lives.  

Sonny Coops van Utteren in My Extraordinary Summer with Tess (2019)

The film is based on the book of the same name by Anna Woltz and the story is told in the first person. In the film, it is narrated in the first person by the young male protagonist. But it’s his encounters with the tomboyish and daring Tess that help him learn about life far more than he has from literature up to that moment.  

The two teenage actors manage to give a believable performance in their respective roles.  While both actors are very new to the film scene, it is an accomplished director who ensures that the film’s Coming-of-Age and first-love themes are well-represented. While the first-person narration helps a lot, it can be difficult to convey the characters’ inner worlds when adapting a novel to the screen.  

It is difficult not to compare the two main characters in My Extraordinary Summer with Tess and the entire style to those from Moonrise Kingdom; yet, the American Coming-of-Age comedy-drama from 2012 comes off as being far more interesting and inventive. 

The majority of the events take place outside, and the film is imbued with a genuine sense of summer thanks to the gorgeously composed views of expansive sandy beaches, clear blue skies, and clear blue water. When it comes to the cinematography of this movie, the camera seems to concentrate its attention primarily on the boy, shooting many close-ups of his body and eyes. This choice makes sense given that the narrative is delivered mostly via his point of view. However, the contrast between his character and his newly discovered friend Tess is what makes for a charming picture of first love experiences that are intertwined with some serious issues such as mortality, friendships, and loneliness. 

My Extraordinary Summer with Tess focuses mostly on the Coming-of-Age experiences of children, while the adult characters mainly play supporting or background roles. In spite of the lack of dramatic advances, the film’s overall dynamic seems to be rather natural for a picture that correctly depicts age-related experiences throughout a single summer week. So, in a way, everything is how it should be. 

Trailer 

My Extraordinary Summer with Tess (2019)
In short
Featuring a narrative infused with summer nostalgia and rites of passage, Steven Wouterlood`s My Extraordinary Summer with Tess is a perfect flick for a hot lazy summer afternoon.
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Reader Rating0 Votes
3.2
Our rating
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