Richard Linklater's epic magnum opus "Boyhood" is being released in cinemas this week. The film, twelve years in the making, follows the development of a young boy from age six to eighteen. To cut a long story short, it's kind of a big deal. As Eric Kohn wrote in our review, "the involving chronicle marks an unprecedented achievement in fictional storytelling." In such spirits, we deemed it appropriate to think back over the years and list the most unique and authentic representations of youth in film. Here are eleven of the best indie depictions of young minds and the worlds they inhabit. Let us know your favorites in the comments. "Boyhood" opens July 11th.
"Afterschool" Dir. Antonio Campos (2008)
Antonio Campos brings a Cold War sense of paranoia and evil to a wealthy boarding school in this haunting portrayal of today's youth. The protagonist, a troubled teenager named Robert (Ezra Miller), uses voyeurism to escape social alienation. While videotaping his school grounds with a digital camera, he happens upon a terrifying scene: two of the school's prettiest and most popular girls have just overdosed in the hallway, and he's the only witness as they seize to their deaths. The plot that follows is secondary to film's strong tone, which captures the zeitgeist of our technology-ridden world and exposes its sinister underbelly. In the chilling style of Haneke, Campos infuses human interaction with latent violence. Every encounter, however seemingly banal, promises to have darker implications. Robert is every modern parent's nightmare: using violent pornography to fill the void of his loneliness, he becomes increasingly estranged from what appears to be a vapid reality, demonstrating feeble attempts at empathy and human connection. It's a poem of warning. (Emily Buder)
"À Ma Sœur!" Dir. Catherine Breillat (2001)
Breillat's film "À Ma Sœur!" ("Fat Girl") is a disturbing yet profound insight into female adolescence, conveying a deep understanding of certain mindsets and relations usually washed over and tragically misconstrued. It challenges conceptions of idealistic love and romance, grinding out a story of harsh truth. Vacationing on the French seaside, Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) and her older sister Elena (Roxane Mesquida) are obsessed with the idea of sex and their virginities. Anaïs, twelve years old, overweight and an "intellectual," says, "The first time should be with nobody," while her sister, though promiscuous, wants to save herself for someone who loves her. Their volatile relationship centers the film, which loosely focuses on their first sexual experiences; neither sister is able to separate herself from the undying, inescapable attachment they share. Jealousy is abound. Scenes of Anaïs watching her sister intimately involved with men elicit strange revelatory reactions. Her silence and quiet misunderstanding paints an inherent naivety that isn't ever vocalized. The world around her has failed and nothing can really be done to set things right. This is also articulated quite clearly in the film's shocking ending, which might agitate and upset some. Breillat's brilliant film builds a tone of repression and menace that is finally released in random violent acts, showing all to be facile and just twisted conceptions built up through false fairy tales. (Oliver MacMahon)
"Central do Brasil" Dir. Walter Salles (1988)
"Kids" Dir. Larry Clark (1995)
Larry Clark's film "Kids" perfectly captured a generation. Written by Harmony Korine ("Spring Breakers," "Gummo"), it depicts a day in the life of a group of sexually active, drug enthused teenagers in mid-90s New York. The opening scenes set things up: A seventeen-year-old boy, Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), convinces a thirteen-year-old girl to have sex for the first time. He then leaves, discussing why he "loves virgins" with his friend Casper (Justin Pierce), graphically describing his experience and how he knew "she'd just entered puberty." At the end of the film--STDs shared and hearts broken--Casper looks up the camera (breaking the fourth wall) and says, "Jesus Christ, what happened?" His words ring true and bring the entire film together, which features scene upon scene of sex, drugs and violence. Clark's film shows the collapse of our youth, their departure into hedonistic indulgence and mindless destruction. He humanizes it though, refusing mock representation, showing us the thought and feeling behind all the lost drifting in the chaos of an unchecked modern world. (Oliver MacMahon)
"Ma Vie En Rose" Dir. Alain Berliner (1997)
"Ratcatcher" Dir. Lynne Ramsay (1999)
The hallmark of a great coming-of-age film is its ability to speak the unique language of childhood. Lynne Ramsay, arguably one of the most important female indie filmmakers today, crafts the film in this language entirely. "Ratcatcher" follows twelve-year-old Joshua as he comes of age in the poorest slums of '70s Glasgow. As children, we view the world through a largely symbolic lens; we fill our gaps in understanding with a poetic, metaphorical framework. Ramsay translates this into potent symbolic imagery onscreen, and we’re taken on a journey into Joshua's world as he navigates very adult themes—death, guilt, sex, extreme poverty, injustice—with the imaginative expressionism of a child. The film is thus able to move between beauty and squalor with a rare kind of fluidity. Raw performances illuminate a gritty, harsh reality as "Ratcatcher" reminds us to be grateful if we've been lucky enough to experience a tender childhood. (Emily Buder)
"Salaam Bombay!" Dir. Mira Nair (1998)
"The Spectacular Now" Dir. James Ponsoldt (2013)James Ponsoldt's film "The Spectacular Now," adapted from Tim Tharp's novel of the same name, is a coming-of-age story unlike many others. As Eric Kohn wrote in our review, the film "achieves an intimacy with its protagonists that's nearly radical compared with the mainstream industry standard." Ponsoldt shows us something reminiscent of an actual person, not a "character," and we learn from their mistakes and triumphs. Starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, the film premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim. It revolves around charming yet self-destructive goofball Sutter Keely (Teller), a high school senior with a drinking problem. You probably won't like him initially, but slowly you come to grasp the truth in his decisions (big and small). You'll see yourself in him--the good and the bad--and truly connect.
"Sweet Sixteen" Dir. Ken Loach (2002)
"Tomboy" Dir. Celine Sciamma (2011)
Celine Sciamma's ("Water Lilies," "Girlhood") astonishing sophomore film is pretty much the inverse of "Ma Vie En Rose," recounting the tall tale of an androgynous ten-year-old girl named Laure (Zoé Héra) who tries to convince those around her that she is a boy. Having just moved into a new neighborhood, she introduces herself as Mikaël, "the new boy in the apartment," and gets away with it. The charade doesn't last long and her deceit only intensifies the backlash she inevitably receives. The community casts her into isolation, denoting her behavior as "disgusting." There are sparks of future possibility in the young romance Mikaël forms with Lisa (Jeanne Disson). What makes this film great is Sciamma's delicate minimalist storytelling that gives itself time to settle into a near pitch-perfect rhythm and tone so that it can properly garner our sympathies when exploring the mind-set of this confused little girl and the real injustice that she suffers. The film draws us nostalgically back to our own childhoods, capturing a feeling of dreamy summer days and whimsical play – truly a time where we all, in some way, felt the need to search out our individual paths. (Oliver MacMahon)