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BLACK NIGHTS 2018 First Feature Competition

Review: Yung


- First-time director Henning Gronkowski ventures through the Berlin youth scene in a film that neither liberates its characters nor judges their choices

Review: Yung
Janaina Liesenfeld and Emily Lau in Yung

The opening of Yung [+see also:
interview: Henning Gronkowski
film profile
 by first-time director Henning Gronkowski could be an ordinary scene of a dad picking up his daughter from school – except it isn’t. In this feature debut, shown in the First Feature Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, all of the questions a parent normally asks their kid on the drive home are posed by a fifty-something man preying on Jana (Janaina Liesenfeld), a teenager who’s earning money through webcam sex and occasional encounters with some of her much older customers. In a rented hotel room, the camera glides over her smooth skin and stops at the man’s veiny and well-worn feet. It’s the viewer who gets caught up in a plethora of negative emotions, but Jana’s face remains expressionless.

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Unpretentious in his approach to the little-known Berlin youth subculture in a film that so effortlessly bounces between documentary and fiction, Gronkowski builds his narrative around four friends – Jana, Emmy (Emily Lau), Abbie (Abbie Dutton) and Joy (Joy Grant) – and their large group of fellow partygoers. Between experimenting with drugs and sweating them out in nightclubs, the youngsters are trying to figure out who they are and what they are after. They are unapologetic and only make an attempt at self-analysis after being forced into it through questions. In those talking-head moments, they are at their most alert, swapping blunts for cigarettes and giggles for reasoning.

Janaina Liesenfeld carries the film and deals well with the burden of the most daring scenes, but despite the intensity of the sex-related content, the movie does not place its protagonists in uneasy situations. Adam Ginsberg’s camera never reveals too much, and Gronkowski doesn’t show a particular interest in objectifying his actresses. His approach is that of a mute observer who eavesdrops on conversations on public transport, on city rooftops and in the girls’ homes.

After its screening at the Munich Film Festival, parallels were immediately drawn between Yung and Larry Clark’s Kids, but trundling out the teenage debauchery argument is a little weak. Yung doesn’t codify a critical idea, and it doesn’t have much of a central plot, but most importantly, it doesn’t represent a generation of kids with a similar, or even a dysfunctional, background. The film neither liberates its characters nor judges their choices, and hurtles like a rollercoaster through the girls’ lives: Emmy, who is sinking into drug addiction, is becoming an expert on making her own liquids, Joy deals drugs to finance her party-going lifestyle, and Abbie – who moved to Berlin because “God told her parents to build a church” – dreams of going to LA.

Marijuana, GHB, DMT, ecstasy, mushrooms, LSD and bottles of booze are passed from hand to hand and from mouth to mouth during the entire film. “I’ve tried everything apart from heroin and crack. I’ve done pretty much everything else,” says Joy, and she is in a completely different place to her friend Tyrell (Tyrell Otoo), whose parents have been pumping him full of drugs ever since he was six years old.

Yung was born of the director’s own knowledge of the party scene in Berlin. It is Gronkowski, a German actor-turned-director, revisiting places and situations from his past. The beats by German DJs and musicians – MC NZIDJ HellAbblouVegasFangoMalakoff KowalskiBenjamin Lysaght and Cameron Avery – are electrifying and perfectly set the tempo for the girls’ frenzied escapades across Berlin.

Yung is a German production staged by Gruppe Gronkowski and co-produced by deutschfilm.

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