Being Young Today: Hope amongst Hopelessness

in 27th Stockholm International Film Festival

by Bettina Hirsch

The 24 films in the Open Zone section at the 27th Stockholm International Film Festival left we jury members spoiled for choice when trying to pick the winner of the Fipresci Award—and led to engage in thorough discussions about the future of our youth.

American Honey by Andrea Arnold—not the only film to fully deserve the Fipresci Award—shows how difficult it is to be young today. In a society that is more and more polarised between rich and poor, that is decadent and hopeless, and whose middle layers in decline, grown–ups tend to be far too occupied with themselves to live up to their parental duties and take responsibility for their children. In Arnold’s film, a group of youngsters join a magazine sales team on a road trip through the United States to earn money for a better life, employing rather questionable sales techniques to get the money off their “victims.” No one had been able to teach them moral and ethical values. Following the reasoning that it’s their turn now, the teenagers target the rich as well as the poor and try to trade in the hopelessness of their current life for a party with like-minded people. Their consensus is: “We take what our parents have denied us.”

The film Park by Sofia Exarchou, shown in the competitive section for new ground-breaking directors, is the Greek equivalent to American Honey. Where Arnold follows a few young Americans, Exarchou’s film is about a group of young Greeks who struggle to find hope within the crisis surrounding them. More than ten years after the Olympic Games in Athens, the Olympic village has become a near ghosttown with only a few working-class families living there. Over the course of one summer a gang of local teenagers occupy the deserted sports park and turn it into an imaginary world of their own. Apart from staging mock tournaments and dog-mating they find love amongst the ruins. But as they’re all defined by growing up in the shadow of the once magnificent park, and as a deeper longing for something better, their games eventually turn increasingly violent. After all they have nothing to lose.

Park is not as easily accessibleas American Honey. It doesn’t feature an excellent, catchy soundtrack that viewers bop along to in their cinema seats as the on-screen protagonists dance in the supermarket while hiding food items under their t-shirts. Also, the love scenes aren’t shot in the same erotic and camera-friendly way, there’re no close-ups of sexy tattoos and short, fringed hot-pants. In Park everything is dirty. The sex is quick, hard and monotone. Tattoos are replaced by scars, bruises and marks from various accidents. Even without any smell-o-vision effects in the cinema, Park leaves us with the impression that we can almost smell the stench.

Despite the two films’ stark differences, we’re left with the same thoughts and questions as we leave the cinema: Who will take care of our forgotten youth? What perspectives are there in a world that is in the process of being completely restructured? If every society is only as good as its weakest members, how can our society function? In the United States, the new president has a huge task ahead of him if he wants to “make American great again.” In Europe, some memberstates prefer leaving the union rather than helping out the weaker ones. Greece is struggling to stay in the EU whilethe UK is turning its back.

Good films show us what may happen if we simply look away – in this respect, American Honey and Park are representative examples. Andrea Arnold’s and Sofia Exarchou’s outstanding films both excel in handling this powerful topic in their own ways. And despite the small number of entries from female directors being shown at this year’s festival in Stockholm, the majority of the prices deservedly went to women. This year’s main award, the Bronze Horse for Best Film went to Bulgarian director Ralitza Petrova for Godless (Bezbog), which won the Fipresci Award at the 32nd Warsaw International Film Festival in October 2016.

Diversity bears fruit—and gives food for thought as well as hope amidst hopelessness.

Edited by José Teodoro