LATEST ARTICLES

Close ( 2022)

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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.
4.7
Our rating

Dealer (2021)

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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

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)

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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
Available at :

Edge of Winter (2016)

Edge of WinterEdge of Winter is a captivating and intense Coming-of-Age drama from Canada (it’s a co-production of the USA and Canada, yet it is overall stylistic is characteristic of Canadian Indie cinema).

Elliot Baker (Joel Kinnaman) is a middle-aged, broken-down father who gets a chance to spend time with his two sons, who otherwise live with their mother and her new partner. With little with which to amaze the boys at his run-down apartment, Elliot takes his sons on a trip to a remote forest (in what appears to be a national park) to teach them how to shoot a gun and generally “man-them up”.

Elliot loves his sons and wants to ensure they are having a good time with him. It is not until younger son Caleb’s admission that their mother’s new husband plans to move the family to London (halfway across the world in Elliot’s own words) that things start to unravel. A nervous breakdown is followed by a car accident leaving the party of three stranded in the snowy wilderness.

Scene from Edge of Winter (2016)
Scene from Edge of Winter (2016)

The actors cast in the lead roles of Bradley and Caleb Baker are outstanding, namely Tom Holland (known for his role as Billy Elliot in Billy Elliot The Musical, and movies such as The Impossible, In the Heart of the Sea and Captain America: Civil War) and Percy Hynes White (whose performance in the 2014 Canadian indie flick Cast No Shadow made a positive long-lasting impression on me).

The two young actors work well together and, to pull off credible performances, managed to bring together the elements of fragility, naivety, confusion, and strength into their adolescent characters. This, in turn, leads the viewer to empathize with their characters and the situation in which they find themselves.

As one observes the boys’ reactions to the outward challenges to their beliefs and attitudes, the dynamic nature of their characters comes across strongly. With their lives endangered, in their initial innocence, they realize that they need to alter their behavior in order to survive. That’s when the Coming-of-Age motifs of the narrative are best emphasized.

Official Trailer

Intense and suspenseful scenes are present and, while the story does not exactly shine with originality (one may recall the two brothers and their father in the wilderness motif from Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s 2003 psychological drama The Return), the tension builds nicely and one never feels bored or annoyed watching the film.

The story in Edge of Winter is simple enough to follow, yet with a degree of complexity introduced by the alteration of the character’s personalities. The dramatic structure of the film (as drama is indeed present) follows a linear approach with all of its elements – exposition, complication and a climax – well developed.

Thanks to the immaculate camera work and visual design (especially when it comes to the story setting – selected as if to play reflect on the character of Elliot Baker), Edge of Winter has an atmospheric, ominous feel to it that further enhances one’s cinematic experience.  All in all, Edge of Winter is an excellent film with a well-told story and strong acting performances. I don’t hesitate to recommend it to any fan of the Coming-of-Age genre.

Edge of Winter (2016)
In short
An excellent film with a well-told story and strong acting performances. Highly recommended to any fan of the Coming-of-Age genre.
3.9
OUR SCORE
Watch on Demand

Just Looking (1999)

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Just Looking (1999)It is not a secret that I am a big fan of first-person narration in Coming-of-Age films. It bridges the gap between literature and movies, enabling the audience to obtain a crucial glimpse into the young protagonist’s inner world. (Also observed in my review of Hugh Hudson’s 2010 film My Life So Far.) This is especially true if the narrator is age and tone appropriate, which is the case in the modest Coming-of-Age comedy Just Looking 

The primary character is thirteen-year-old Lenny Levine, who, like most teenage boys, is infatuated with sex. But because he is too naïve, confused, and inexperienced, he concentrates all of his energy and will on a single objective: to witness two people “do it” during his summer vacation. 

Every sentence of the film’s dialogue is loaded with a youthful spontaneity, warm humor, and light sarcasm, all of which are highly successful because of Ryan Merriman’s superb acting, who manages to pull off realistic performances both on-screen and as a voice-over narrator. 

Just Looking ( 1999) – Trailer 

Ryan Merriman and Gretchen Mol in Just Looking

The action takes place in the mid-fifties in New York, and the bittersweet color palette and production design, which includes several iconic automobiles and other items from the era, give the picture a genuine feeling of timelessness. All of this is supported by a decent score featuring jazz band music, which greatly improves the scenes on screen by providing a true feeling of time and place. This may appeal to older audiences (for nostalgic reasons), but younger people may find the film dated because everything is so easily accessible nowadays, only one click away.   

Lenny Levine (Ryan Merriman) in Just Looking

As a whole, the narrative of Just Looking is not overly original, but the stereotypical happenings and characters somehow positively benefit the film’s overall impact. The exploration of adolescent sexuality and confusion has long been a topic in Coming-of-Age films. Just Looking delivers an approachable discourse on the birds and the bees without being judgmental or moralizing. 

Just Looking (1999)
In short
Just Looking delivers an approachable discourse on the birds and the bees aided by the superb performance of its main protagonist played by Ryan Merriman.
Character/Acting
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Storyline/Screenplay
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Reader Rating1 Vote
4
Our rating
Available at :

Jack (2014)

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Told from the perspective of the character Jack (Ivo Pietzcker), a ten-year-old boy with responsibilities greater than any kid his age should have to undertake, Edward Berger’s 2014 German drama Jack offers a grim yet moving portrayal of a childhood lived in unfortunate circumstances.

The manner in which the film is shot reminds one of the Dardenne Brothers’ 2011 movie The Kid with a Bike, the films of Ursula Meier (Sister, Home), as well as the 2004 Japanese film Nobody Knows — with respect to the central topic being a portrayal of the struggle of marginalized children.

While the action is set in Berlin, the film’s story is universal. It could happen anywhere in the world, which increases a viewer’s association with the characters – often an essential requirement for a viewing experience that will not fail to satisfy the intellect and the soul.

Jack (Ivo Pietzcker) and his little brother MAnuel (Georg Arms)
Jack (Ivo Pietzcker) and his little brother Manuel (Georg Arms)

Ivo Pietzcker’s performance as Jack impresses with its sincerity as he can fully embody his character and emotions while projecting the confusion, frustration, and need for love and care children feel. It doesn’t surprise that the film has the title of Ivo Pietzvker’s character – especially considering that he is present in just about every scene of the movie.

Whereas the storytelling is limited to what is happening on the screen, omitting background details of the prior lives of the characters as much as possible, the story still feels complete thanks to one’s ability to empathize with the characters – clear evidence of the combination of both capable acting and directing.

Jack – Official Trailer

Jack was not filmed to be a big blockbuster but in the manner of a small, independent movie made for TV. That is not surprising considering that its director has an extensive background in television productions. There is a sense of urgency from the opening scenes that results in substantial dramatic tension tightly associated with Jack’s tenseness and confusion.

Some adults are more lost that the kids - Jack (2014)
Some adults are more lost than the kids – Jack (2014)

On a personal note, having known not just one, but two young boys of a similar age and a similar life story to the young protagonist made the drama of the film even more poignant for me as I kept envisioning them in Jack — knowing that their reactions of the sudden change of circumstances would not have been much different from that of Ivo Pietzcker’s character. Usually, it’s a positive influence that helps such children. Still, I am thankful that the filmmakers did not go to an easier clichéd solution to the film’s hero’s dilemma.

Scene from the Jack (2014)
A scene from the Jack (2014)

As with most realistic films, Jack was shot on location (the streets of Berlin) and lacks a prominent musical score or special audio and visual effects. (When music is present, it’s always a part of the activity on-screen). Yet the film’s photography and set design [especially the colorful set and clothes (mainly t-shirts) Jack wears] aids the character development in a subtle manner.

Ivo Pietzcker as Jack
Ivo Pietzcker as Jack

Jack’s story is essentially Coming-of-Age, especially concerning the final scenes when we observe how the young protagonist is forced to make one final decision about his future and that of his family. Though the day-to-day life heavily influences Jack’s existence lived with a younger brother and a loving and caring but irresponsible mother (who hasn’t completed the Coming-of-Age process herself), he projects a maturity beyond his age as his childhood innocence is stripped from him, layer by layer, as the story develops.

I could not notice any significant flaws in the film and greatly appreciated the perspective and how the story is told. If seeking a poignant Coming-of-Age narrative, Jack will meet anyone’s expectations.

The film is suitable for audiences of all ages, despite one scene featuring nudity in a non-exploitative manner, not unlike many other European and, in particular, German productions.

Jack (2014)
In short
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Reader Rating2 Votes
5
Our rating

Like a Kiss From Jesus (2015)

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I like short films. I collect them like special-issue stamps on my hard drive because, like stamps, they are ephemeral, but some are worth preserving.

They get posted online and most disappear, forgotten. Mostly, that doesn’t matter. But occasional gems get lost.

Thankfully, Like a Kiss From Jesus is still up on Dailymotion after seven years. Given my penchant for short films and Coming-of-Age films in particular, I don’t know how I missed it when it was released. I only found it today and I think it’s one of the most profound and beautiful shorts I’ve ever seen.

 


A neglected boy on the cusp of adolescence awakes on his birthday. He takes breakfast alone before approaching his mother’s bedroom. Though not explicitly stated, my impression is that said mom is a sex worker. Whatever, she has a man with her who shows no interest in the boy and more interest in continuing whatever he was up to with his mother.

The theme of lovelessness is compounded when, rather than give her son the birthday present he requests, she gives him the money to buy one for himself.

God, that hooked me before the Coming-of-Age theme even got going! Films about dysfunctional families: gotta love ’em, right?

A scene from Like a Kiss from Jesus (2015)



So, off he goes on his bike and buys himself the gift: a personal stereo (this film is clearly set in a pre-iPod era when Sony Walkmans [Walkmen?] were kewl). He gets it gift-wrapped. That simply broke my heart…

But enough of the spoilers. Suffice to say he heads for the beach and makes an encounter that awakens and changes his life.

Anthony Ursin in Like a Kiss From Jesus (2115)



Like a Kiss From Jesus is beautifully produced and directed. A short gem among so much paste out there. Innocence is counterpoised with loveless sex. Loveless sex counterpoised with innocent sexual awakening. Terrific performances from the boy and girl who carry it.

I can’t comment further without giving the game away. Maybe it won’t be for everyone, but I haven’t felt so moved by a short piece of independent cinema for a long time. And it’s there for the viewing. Go watch, peeps.

Introducing CZ ’21

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Throughout the years, I have lamented when some artists all of a sudden erase their older videos as they grow older. But this also serves as a reminder of the fleeting nature of many good songs and projects. A group of young boys in Japan is exploding on the internet with the dance moves of its members. 

They are CZ’21 – a creative band comprised of elementary school children. Band members are: Haruto Ohno, Shion Kuroda, Keitatsu Koshiyama, Hozumi Shimada, Atora Shoji, Masayuki Takakuwa, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, and Ryusei Miyamoto. The project will last until they graduate. 

Japanese boys are often seen dancing and singing in their daily lives. The Japanese culture is very different from the Western cultures, which is why they have their own way of expressing themselves. Creative choreography, remarkable dancing skills, and excellent vocal performances– are all featured in the two songs now available on YouTube: a cover of BTS`s Dynamite and Inside the Mirror. Their videos are full of energy and could be interpreted as an artistic expression of how these boys are feeling at that moment or it could be an expression of their energy level, which is so high that they can’t keep still. 

Yet unless one speaks Japanese, information about them is not easily obtainable. Most of the boys hail from Tokyo and have been dancing from a very early age. Many have previously booked advertisement campaigns and frequently appear on various television shows in Japan. All are represented by Start Dust, which is a major talent management agency. 

We hope that you have enjoyed our introduction to the shining stars in the youth performing arts – CZ’21!  

Better Nate Than Ever (2022)

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It has been a while since I enjoyed a movie so much. Original, funky with a contemporary storyline, and with a wonderful young actor in the lead role, Disney’s Better Nate Than Ever is a pure joy to watch and experience.

Yes, it is an easygoing kind of film – a typical sweetened American fairy tale, and it requires some willing suspension of disbelief. But  I can guarantee that you will enjoy watching the young Rueby Wood in the role of an impressionable, passionate, quirky, and incredibly talented Nathan – a boy, obsessed with Broadway and musicals who aspires to make it big and see his name “up in lights”.   

Rueby Wood as Nate

The film is based on the best selling book of the same name, written by Tim Federale. The book and film are contemporary boyish renditions of Cinderella’s tale — packed with trendy slang and references to viral videos, Instagram, and TikTok. They contain a message of following one’s aspirations against the odds. The fact that one can predict the ending from the first scenes does not detract from either one’s pleasure or the story’s inspirational quality. 

Admittedly, I live in a bubble filled with Coming-of-Age films, young performers, singers, and actors. Thus, the film’s premise and delivery hit a home run in capturing my attention. Nonetheless, solid character development, smart editing, and a delightful young ensemble ensure that everyone will find something to chuckle about and enjoy. 

The plot has many exaggerated moments. Some may claim that some of the performers over act (reminding me of P.J. Verhoest‘s portrayal of a young/old Hollywood-obsessed boy in Charles Busch‘s Coming-of-Age drama A Very Serious Person). But I would argue that this is where the film’s appeal lies.

There are some hints of the young protagonist’s sexuality, which aren’t always subtle, yet Stephen Daldry‘s Billy Elliot demonstrated that not every archetypal character is universal and predictable. 

Trailer

Better Nate Than Ever owes a lot of its appeal to the great energy-infused performance of Reuby Wood. He ably carries the picture with his presence and charisma and, last but not least,  great singing skills. 

It’s a joyful, uplifting adventure with a happy conclusion, several amazing performance sequences, bright-colored cinematography, and a modern vibe. Better Nate Than Ever features an uplifting Coming-of-Age story guaranteed to brighten your day. Highly recommended!  

 

Better Nate Than Ever (2022)
In short
Better Nate Than Ever features an uplifting Coming-of-Age story guaranteed to brighten your day. Highly recommended!  
Character/Acting

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Reader Rating2 Votes

4.8
Our rating

Once Upon a Time in Euskadi (2021)

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Written and directed by Manu Gomez, the Spanish 2021 movie Once Upon a Time in Euskadi promises more than it delivers.

Fans of the Coming-of-Age genre, enticed by the film’s synopsis: “A group of 12-year-old friends will have to learn to deal with loss and adversity, thanks to the power of friendship”, are likely to be disappointed by the time the final credits roll.  

The film’s most serious shortcoming is weak character development. Although the story is filled with references to the Basque filmmaker’s childhood, the Coming-of-Age motifs of the narrative never come true strongly due to the impossibility of the viewer to identify with or develop an emotional bond with any of the young protagonists.

This cannot be ascribed to the acting performances of Asier Flores, Aitor Calderon, Miguel Rivera, and Hugo Garcia, who comprise the children’s cast of the movie. They are extremely adept and deliver strong and convincing portrayals of their respective characters.  The adult actors are also adept but, when scenes of the children interacting with the adults are on screen, things go wrong and the film turns into neither a real Coming-of-Age story nor a faithful portrait of 1985’s Spain.  

Asier Flores, Aitor Calderon, Miguel Rivera, and Hugo Garcia

Undoubtfully the film’s director aims to depict the period from a child’s perspective and would have achieved that objective if only the plot focused on one character instead of numerous incidents and dramas of the many individuals that participate in the story. Attempting to mix different genres does not prove beneficial for Once Upon a Time in Euskadi. 

Editing and scripting are not the film’s strong points, and the story, per se, does not shine with originality, but the film’s production and the cinematography are redeeming factors.

Aided by the sympathetic appeal of the young cast, many scenes are simply beautiful to look at, infused with nostalgia and hidden meanings.  

The movie’s soundtrack is comprised predominantly of punk and rock themes and is “hit or miss”. It enhances some scenes but, in others, it calls too much attention to itself.  

Once Upon a Time in Euskadi Trailer 

It should be noted that since I have only heard of life in the Basque region of Spain, I could have missed many of the narrative’s references. Yet a good story needs to be universal and it’s not like the Spanish cinema isn’t filled with masterpieces of the Coming-of-Age genre such as Jose Luis Cuerda’s Butterfly’s Tongue and Antonio Merceros The 4th Floor. 

As the story failed to engage and did not evoke strong emotions in me, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Once Upon a Time in Euskadi. It is not a bad movie per se, but easily forgettable except for a scene or two.  

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12991844/reference/

Once Upon a Time in Euskadi (2021)
In short
Despite strong performances from the child cast, Once Upon a Time in Euskadi failed to engage me.
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Reader Rating0 Votes

3.3
Our rating

Cast No Shadow (2014)

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Cast No ShadowWhen it comes to unique indie films, one can always rely on the Canadian filmmakers.

Most connoisseurs of the Coming-of-Age genre could easily come up with at least one powerful drama with Canadian origins. Some examples are: Stephen Surjik‘s Little Criminals, Antonio DiVerdis‘s South of the MoonDave Shultz‘s Jet Boy or  Daniel Grou‘s 10 ½.

2014 saw the release of another masterpiece – Christian Sparkes‘s psychological thriller Cast No Shadow about a troubled teenager coming-of-age in a turbulent environment.

13-year old Jude Traynor (Percy Hynes White) has had a tough childhood. His single father doesn’t hesitate to involve the teen in various criminal endeavors while, at the same time, treating his son in an abusive manner. Jude finds solace in books and fantasies but, because of his overactive imagination, often finds himself in peculiar situations when it brings terrifying magical creatures into life.

Percy Hynes-White as Jude in Cast No Shadow
Percy Hynes-White as Jude in Cast No Shadow

The concept of magical realism is developed to a significant degree by the film’s narrative. The fantasy elements blend within Jude’s daily existence and, at the same time, influence his decisions and life choices. For the viewer, these play a metaphorical and symbolic role – allowing one to use his/her own interpretations of causes and effects in the life of the young protagonist.

Percy Hynes White is extremely effective as Jude. Half of the story can be seen/felt via his facial expressions and in his eyes (the director made sure there were many poignant close-up shots of his face).  The vulnerability of a young, confused boy is easily felt even if it is mixed with projected toughness, a desire to belong and… something darker, which Jude (and the viewer) has yet to decipher and of which he needs to beware.

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One should not expect swift development, yet the narrative manages to explore most of the rite-and-trials of a turbulent adolescence – friendship, betrayal, father-son relationship (albeit dysfunctional in this case), sexuality and bullying – to mention but a few.  As if to compensate for its slow, methodical pacing, the story in Cast No Shadow contains enough suspense to keep the viewer intrigued. The menace shadowing Jude forces the teenage boy to not confront external forces that shape his life, but to face his own daemons.

Newfoundland provides for stunning settings
Newfoundland provides for stunning settings

The film is shot on location in Newfoundland, Canada and the beauty of the setting never fails to impress from the very first scenes while, at the same time, boost the myth-like atmosphere of the film. (Hold Fast is another Coming-of-Age film shot there.)

Cast No Shadow has it all: a great cast, a unique narrative (the absence of clichés is always welcomed), stunning cinematography and a thought provoking finale. Recommended!

Official Trailer

 

Cast No Shadow (2014)
A must see !
Cast No Shadow has it all: a great cast, a unique narrative, stunning cinematography and a thought provoking finale. Recommended!

5
OUR RATING