Review: Young Solitude
by Fabien Lemercier
- BERLIN 2018: Claire Simon shines a light on the vulnerability of a group of teenagers from the deprived Paris suburbs who talk movingly and openly about their own experiences
With trainers on their feet, headphones riveted to their ears, and braces on their teeth, they are taking their first tentative steps into the adult world. Their childhood is fading fast into the distance, and with it a succession of memories - sometimes happy, sometimes painful. The present, meanwhile, hangs suspended in a whirl of angst-ridden questions about what the future may hold for those whose homes are broken beyond repair and mired by a shocking lack of communication: the life of a 16-18-year-old can sometimes feel a little bit like heaven, but also a little bit like hell.
These teenagers are the focus of French filmmaker Claire Simon in Young Solitude [+see also:
interview: Claire Simon
film profile], a documentary that follows a group of approximately ten 16-18-year-olds in their penultimate year at the Romain Rolland lycée in Ivry-sur-Seine, just outside of Paris. Unveiled in the Forum section of the 68th Berlin Film Festival, this is a moving and true-to-life documentary (also managing to convey the banality of life for older teens who still live relatively sheltered lives).
"Life’s not easy!" As the recorded – and unedited - words of these young adults spill out, with the camera pointed on them as they talk amongst themselves in twos or threes (barring one early sequence in the film with the lycée nurse), the picture of a jaded generation slowly emerges. This is the inevitable product of broken family units that involve bitter separations, non-existent communication, and mealtimes spent apart, with the mother in front of the TV and the daughter staring at her iPad. We hear, through one discussion or another, about a number of issues: the problems that can arise when exposed to mental illness at an early age (one of the teens’ mums is being treated for schizophrenia in a psychiatric hospital – “and my dad’s got a lot of problems too”); the linguistic, social and financial barriers in place (the French capital and all its possibilities are just footsteps away, but despite it being so familiar to them, the future it promises seems so out of reach); and the existential malaise that comes from adoption (“she took me out of pity” repeats a young girl brought over from Nigeria, who has had to leave behind her childhood along with some of her siblings – with whom she still keeps in touch – following a succession of incidents). It’s a picture that may sound bleak – and some scenes are very upsetting - but it actually isn’t, and this by virtue of the fire, the spontaneity and the freshness of these youngsters, and the sharing of their various experiences, which all provides a welcome counterbalance to the pain.
From winter through to spring, Young Solitude follows these adolescents down corridors that resonate with the ringing of class bells and out onto the school terrace that looks out across the town, occasionally escaping outside of the school walls. The film holds up a mirror to Anaïs, Catia, Clément, Elia, Lisa, Hugo, Judith, Manon, Mélodie and Tessa, and while some are more forthcoming than others and the flow of conversation is inevitably imbalanced given the different personalities at play, as the film goes on, a number of these teenagers – like flag-bearers for modern-day youth and eternal adolescence – do make a powerful lasting impression. This film is a snapshot of overlapping lives; it stirs up memories (both good and bad) and shines a light on the importance of talking, quite simply, and friendship. A necessary and significant message because, in the words of one of these youngsters, “the past is the past, you have to focus on building yourself a better present”.
(Translated from French)
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