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)
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Reader Rating3 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

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)

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!  
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Reader Rating3 Votes

4.8
Our rating

Once Upon a Time in Euskadi (2021)

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.  

 

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
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Cast No Shadow (2014)

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.

cast-no-shadow-1__thumb

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

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3783812/combined

 

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

Venice (2010)

“Love. It’s very hard to find. But I will love and will be loved.”

Wenecja 2010As my interest in European cinema grows, I keep discovering Coming-of-Age films from Eastern Europe that never fail to make a huge impact on me. The 2010 Jan Jakub Kolski film Venice is one of them.

Based on short stories by Wlodzimierz Odojewski, the movie is set in Poland with World War II as its backdrop and tells the story of Marek (Marcin Walewski). Marek is an eleven-year-old boy who, for safety,  is sent to the countryside villa of his aunts and female cousins while his father and older brother are summoned to the front.

Early in the film, it becomes clear that Marek and his relatives belong to the privileged class in Poland. He attends a military school, wears fashionable costumes, and his aunt’s villa brings reminisces of a manor. Marek’s parents frequently tour Europe, and thus far, only his age has prevented him from accompanying them on one of their trips to the city of Venice. It’s a city with which he has developed an obsession, thanks to his parents’ stories and what has undoubtedly been his first-class education. When Marek is finally told that he can accompany them on an upcoming trip to Venice, the much-anticipated excursion is put on hold by the outbreak of the war. The boy is not happy at the home of his aunt. Marek doesn’t want to be there but manages to find asylum by building a replica of his dream city in the flooded basement of his aunt’s house.

Scene from Wenecja (2010) AKA Venice

An encounter with a Nazi  officer

I have seen my fair share of Polish Coming-of-Age movies and have found their narratives captivating and appealing. They avoid the meaningless action and over-dramatization that often characterize Western productions and seem to focus on the psychological development and exploration of human nature. Venice uses inner monologues and a stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling, which is especially effective when used in Coming-of-Age stories. This technique allows the audience to get into Marek’s inner world, sense his thoughts and character, and see what motivates, excites, or frightens him. It effectively reflects the disorientation and confusion that Marek feels witnessing the change in his environment and the people he knows imposed on him by the war. He has to make sense of the outside world and the adults surrounding him.

Venice (2010) Marek`s relatives

 Marek’s relatives

Great direction and storytelling are aided by stunning cinematography. Venice uses an intriguing vintage color scheme that helps establish the period when the action takes place – making the audience aware that what they are about to see has happened in the past. But that’s not all. While viewing the film, its visual style, perspective, focus, and lighting felt familiar to me. I was not surprised to find afterward that Venice’s director of photography was Arthur Reinhart. Previously, I had loved his work in the 2004 film Jestem (I Am) and the 2011 picture Jutro bedzie lepiej (Tomorrow Will Be Better).

The highly creative camera movements in some scenes boost the artistic value of the movie. A handheld camera portrays a sudden air raid, which interrupted the laid-back pace of the movie – shocking characters and audience alike. In Venice, Arthur Reinhart worked with director Jan Jakub Kolski, who is considered to be the founder of the “magical realism” trend in Polish film-making.

And magical realism is probably the best term by which to describe Venice. A visual poem is another, more clichéd way to describe the film. I don’t hesitate to apply either term to this film because of the beautiful aesthetics in Venice. From them, the viewer will derive much enjoyment and appreciation. The musical themes of Polish pianist Frédéric Chopin provide additional nuances to the visuals, boosting the depth of their emotional impact.

Marcin Walewski as Marek in the 2010 Polish Film Venice

Marcin Walewski as Marek in the 2010 Polish Film Venice

The characters are believable, even though the behavior of Marek’s aunts seemed a bit too weird to me. Some characters could have been better developed, but the lead character of Marek, from whose perspective the story is told, left nothing to be desired. Marcin Walewski portrayed his character’s emotions in a unique and complex manner. At times, he seemed weak, unsure, and common. But at other times, he came across as strong, determined, and aristocratic. An accomplished performance that one would typically expect from an actor with many more years of big-screen experience (before Venice, Marcin had mostly starred in TV productions).

Venice is almost two hours long, and I can honestly state that I truly enjoyed every single minute of it. The story’s overall pace is laid back, with several sudden changes that provide suspense and the desire to know what will happen next. I’m not sure I understood the ending as, while it made sense to me, some of the reviews I have read (like the one written by Dennis Harvey at Variety) suggest that I may have misinterpreted it. I’d love to hear the interpretations of our readers who have viewed Venice. Please comment in the space provided below.

In the end, I don’t hesitate to recommend the film highly. It’s been added to my must-see list for anyone interested in Coming-of-Age cinema, European cinema, or simply in beautiful film-making.

Venice: Official Trailer

Scene from Wenecja (2010) AKA Venice
Venice (2010)
In short

5
Our rating

Mackintosh and T.J. (1975)

“We all get to where we’re goin’. Some quicker’n others. What happens when the quick ones get there is, they usually have to wait.” 

Marvin J. Chomsky‘s 1975 film Mackintosh and T.J. is one of those rare Coming-of-Age films you have likely not heard of, but would most likely enjoy if you stumbled upon it on your streaming platform of choice or if you caught it playing on the TV.  

The plot revolves around an unexpected friendship between Roy Rogers, a wandering ranch laborer, and Clay O’Brien, a fourteen-year-old runaway/hitchhiker whose ultimate desire is to visit the ocean one day. An unlikely scenario from today’s perspective, but in the 1970s when the film was released, that might not have been the case. Seeing a young boy who swears he has no strings attached is a surprise. It’s only a reminder of a bygone era when it was possible to befriend and help others without asking or caring about sidelong looks. 

 Mackintosh (Roy Rogers) and T.J.(Clay O'Brien)
Mackintosh (Roy Rogers) and T.J.(Clay O’Brien)

Having a streetwise kid with a cocky attitude and an older character acting as his friend and mentor is not unheard of in Coming-of-Age cinema. There is a strong intergenerational friendship present, but character development is weak mostly because the two characters are initially introduced through dialogue, then by physical appearances, and finally through action. 

Country music, rusted pickup trucks, weapons, bar fights, cowboy dances, horse taming and cattle herding all feature in the film’s aesthetic. A remarkable combination of wide-ranging views of ranches and surrounding terrain as well as close attention to the individuals and drama is found in this film. 

Thematically, Mackintosh and T.J. have some parallels with Coming-of-Age films like Honkytonk Man, which presents a far more emotional story but shares some similarities with the musical score that shapes the narrative. The Cowboys, starring John Wayne, is another match because of its western-style (and because young Clay O’Brien starred in it as well). And, last but not least, one is reminded of Criss Cross (1992) due to the similar appearances of Clay O’Brien and David Arnott. The plots, character arcs, and Coming-of-Age themes in all of those films are superior to those found in Mackintosh and T.J. 

http://youtu.be/XlhIFdFDCkY

While it’s not the road movie I expected and it’s not a classic of the Coming-of-Age genre, Mackintosh and T.J. is still an intriguing film with a narrative style reminiscent of one of John Steinbeck’s novels and keeps the viewer interested in what happens next.     

Mackintosh and T.J. (1975)
In short
Mackintosh and T.J.  is a story about an unexpected friendship between a wandering ranch laborer and a fourteen-year-old runaway/hitchhiker.
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Reader Rating0 Votes

3.2
Our rating
Available at :

Verde ( 2006)

Green (Verde) is a 2006 Mexican short film with friendship as its central topic. The difference between socioeconomic classes is reflected in the narrative, as in many other Coming-of-Age films from that country (note also in my review of the 2017 full feature film from Mexico Cuernavaca), albeit it is established that for kids the disparities do not have the importance that adults attach to them.

Guillermo López and Iván Gutiérrez
Guillermo López and Iván Gutiérrez

The film’s core characters are two young boys (Guillermo López and Iván Gutiérrez) whose unexpected relationship is put to the test by their elder brothers, who disapprove of it. While the plot is simple, the glimpses of childhood memories make the picture enjoyable to watch, owing to the nostalgic thoughts one gets while seeing how the two young friends spend their time.

Aside from a song sung by one of the lads, and another that plays over the end credits, the film lacks a musical score. However, one is not required because much of the characterization is done through appearance rather than dialogue, and surroundings are mostly utilized to highlight the differences in the socioeconomic groups to which each boy belongs.

The film excels in capturing the mood of Mexican childhood and, from it, one can sense the soul of the land. One of the pleasures of viewing Coming-of-Age films from around the world is that, regardless of place, we can typically correlate the events on screen with events from our own childhood memories.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0840021/reference/

Playground (2021)

Coming-of-Age films addressing bullying and interpersonal relationships are not a new phenomenon in cinema. Yet, among the many cliched approaches of the theme, there are only a few realistic and original movies with an engaging narrative that drives the message home without resorting to emotional manipulation. Such is the case with Laura Wandel`s 2021 film Playground ( Original title: Un monde ).

The film, characterized by its harsh realism, tells the story of 9-year-old  Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) and her brother Abel (Günter Duret). The film opens with a close-up of the tearful face of the young heroine as she is about to enroll in primary school for the very first time. Her brother, Abel, is a little older and already attends that same school. Yet his presence is not enough to calm the little girl. The presence of her brother at the school develops into an issue in itself when she realizes that he is a victim of constant bullying. When Nora attempts to help him, things escalate from bad to worse.

Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) and her brother Abel (Günter Duret)

The action, story, and characters in Playground and the central motifs embedded in the narrative such as bullying, self-image, and peer pressure have significance beyond the context of the film itself. Playground has one of the greatest aspects of Coming-of-Age movies. It makes the spectator aware that one’s childhood experiences are just as crucial for understanding human nature and the world as those we may have as adults.

The pace of the action is emphasized principally by the active (sometimes handheld) camera, which closely follows Nora’s character adopting an indirect-subjective point of view, thus bringing the spectator closer to the action by letting the viewers become involved with the sentiments of the little girl. The camera frames the whole action from a child’s eye level (by making use of low-level and close-up shots), highlighting the uniqueness of their world while, at the same time, isolating the adults in supportive and assistive roles.  

Intriguingly enough, the film score is comprised not of music, but the sounds of the school playground. The school noise is ever-present in the picture, further boosting the story’s authenticity level. The playground itself becomes a microcosm representing the world and our society.

Maya Vanderbeque is on screen for almost every second of the film. One rarely needs dialogue to interpret emotions. Portraying a multilayered personality in development is challenging, but the young actresses excels in it, delivering a quiet yet profound performance. As the film is told from the viewpoint of Nora, Günter Duret’s character is less frequently on screen. Yet, his presence is essential in portraying the interpersonal relationship between brother and sister, which is anything but static. 

Playground is not your typical Coming-of-Age bullying movie. It offers an intense emotional journey that achieves a lot in its 72 minute duration.

 

Playground (2021)
In short
Playground is a realistic and original Coming-of-Age themed movie with an engaging narrative that drives its message home without resorting to emotional manipulation.
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Reader Rating0 Votes

4.7
Our rating
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The Red Head (1932)

The Red Head 1932 posterHaving reviewed many new releases in 2012,  I decided to explore some of the classic Coming-of-Age movies that have left their mark on the genre and cinematic culture as a whole. Such movies are frequently found in the French and Italian cinemas, and some have been previously reviewed on the site: the 1966 movie Incompresso, the 1973 film The Last Snows of Spring, and 1964’s This Special Friendship but a few.

I have chosen a French film for today’s review: The Red Head (Poil de carotte), which is based on an autobiographical novel by Jules Renard published in 1894. It tells the story of Francoise Lepic,  a young boy who struggles for the acceptance and love of his family. Francoise spends most of the year at a boarding school, but, unlike his classmates, he is not looking forward to the summer vacation he is to spend at home with his family. 

A distant father and an embittered mother who doesn’t miss a chance to correct his behavior, an older brother and sister. So dysfunctional is his family that Francoise defines it in the following way:  

“A family is a group of people forced to live together under one roof, who can’t stand each other.”

Such a definition suggests a strange state of mind, yet the story provides plenty of explanation for it by following Francoise’s trials and tribulations during his summer vacation. Will the young Francoise find a way to stand up for himself? Will he find happiness, or will his story end tragically…?

Robert Lynen as Francoise Lepic in Julien Duvivier’s “Poil de Carotte” (France, 1932).

Robert Lynen as Francoise Lepic in Julien Duvivier’s Poil de Carotte 

Watching films in black and white is a whole different experience on its own. Most film schools would suggest viewing such movies to understand how lighting can convey meaning. The 1995 American thriller The Night of the Hunter is frequently used as a reference (a film featuring Coming-of-Age themes). Yet one does not have to be a movie buff to enjoy a movie shot in black and white – especially in such a poignant and moving drama as The Read Head. Seeing the excellent cinematography, a film released 80 years ago exhibited while comparing it with the mediocre quality of photography in the mass-produced movies nowadays (despite the much-advanced technology) is a real eye-opener. Close-up shots of Francoise’s face allow the viewer to feel his emotions and sense his mood.

Poil de carotte

Robert Lynen as Francoise Lepic: Expression 

The tension builds as the story progresses, and so does the viewer’s involvement with the little boy’s fate in search of love and acceptance. Regardless of your age and interests, you will wish that it all ends well for him.

Director Julien Duvivier deserves admiration for his work with Robert Lynen – who had never acted before winning the role of playing Francoise Lepic in this movie. The young actor’s performance, the way he expresses cheerfulness, sadness, anger, and confusion, is undoubtedly responsible for the film’s unique appeal to any fan of the Coming-of-Age genre and the immense success of the film when it was released. Robert Lynen became one of the most acclaimed young actors in the French cinema, comparable to such latter-day talents as Haley Joel OsmentHenry Thomas, and Barret Oliver. The cinematography and directing of classics such as The Night of The Hunter and The Read Head have influenced modern-day filmmakers such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Steven Allan Spielberg, and many others.

I don’t hesitate to recommend Julien Duvivier’s film The Read Head highly. It impressed me with its profound and dramatic story, excellent cinematography, and the fantastic acting performance of the young lead (whose other movies are now on my Must See list). The film is a wonderful choice as a starting point in exploring classic cinema and is suitable for all ages (in the same way as Cinderella is). Copyright laws no longer cover films released before 1969,  so you may be able to find a copy of the movie on any streaming service such as YouTube.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023345/reference/

Beyond the Horizon (2019)

Le milieu de l'horizon posterBased on the novel by Roland Buti by the same name, Beyond the Horizon (2019) is a captivating Coming-of-Age film that focuses on Change and the complexity of human relationships. The story is told from the perspective of 13-year-old Gus (Luc Bruchez) who spends one of the hottest summers of his life helping his father on a farm in rural Switzerland.

The scorching heat has jeopardized the survival of the family farm, yet Gus’s summer is not untypical for any boy of his age – filled with bicycles rides, comics and stolen glances at erotic magazines. But his daily routine is soon to be disrupted by the arrival of Cécile (Clémence Poésy), a friend of his mother (Laetitia Casta), which unexpectedly shakes Gus’s world in a turbulent manner, marking the end of his carefree childhood.

Gus (Luc Bruchez)
Gus (Luc Bruchez) on his bike

Style of Production

A co-production between Switzerland and Belgium (with dialogue in French), Beyond the Horizon shares a lot of common traits with other Coming-of-Age narratives from this region. Most notably, these films share excellent character development, camerawork and overall storytelling technique reminiscent of the works of director Ursula Meier (another French-Swiss director). Meier’s eloquent, serious and thought-provoking style of filmmaking is analogous to that of Delphine Lehericey in Beyond the Horizon. Another similarity can be seen in the choice of the filming location. While for Meier’s Home (2008), the film was shot in Bulgaria, all outdoors scenes in Lehericey’s film were shot in the Republic of North Macedonia.

Scene from Beyond the Horizon (2019)

Newcomers in cinema

As the story is told from the perspective of its young protagonist, Gus, young Luc Bruchez is on screen in almost every scene. The camera captures not only the nature of, but the intensity of his emotions and this serves to move the narrative forward in a natural manner. For many fans of the Coming-of-Age genre, discovering the talent of a newcomer to cinema (the role of Gus is the film debut of Luc Bruchez) in an original and poignant film, brings far more satisfaction than observing famed actors (like Jacob Tremblay) in commercial Hollywood pictures. While these newcomers don’t always continue to star in cinema, their debuting roles, with capable direction,  are a joy to behold, remember and reference to.

Rural settings of Beyond the Horizon
Rural settings of Beyond the Horizon

The importance of Change

Change is the essence of Coming-of-Age – from innocence to maturity, but one should not forget that as people differ, for some the rite-of-passage experiences may occur at a later stage of life. Although the main protagonist in Beyond the Horizon is Gus, the Change in his life comes directly from the one experienced by his mother and other members of his family.

Aestetics

Aesthetically the film is a joy to experience. The placement of the camera and the composition obtained allows the viewer to grasp the beauty of the rural setting in which the story takes place. The story happens during a heat wave and the rise in temperatures is so palpable that the viewer (aided by the filmmakers using a yellowish palette of colors, and glimpses of sweat running down the faces of the character) are immersed in the heat as much as the protagonists on screen. It is as if the overwhelming heat has a role in its own. Identifying with the film’s protagonist comes naturally, especially for those who, like me, have a fair share of memories of heat-ridden rural summers. As one follows Gus’s story, the question will be raised by the viewer of what his/her own reaction would be if placed in a similar situation. There are no easy responses as it is a moral riddle for young and older audiences alike.

Trailer

 

At the time of the writing of this review, besides cinemas and festivals, this  film is available for Streaming on Demand in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Beyond the Horizon (2019)
In short
Beyond the Horizon is a captivating Coming-of-Age film which focuses on change and the complexity of human relationships.

5
Our rating
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