“In Unknown Pleasures, young people lack discipline. They don’t have any goals for the future. They refuse all constraints. They run their own lives and act independently. But their spirit is not as free,” director Jia Zhangke said of his 2002 film. The title of the movie comes from a pop song (also a poem by Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi) — an ironic play against the desolate city of Datong. There, the construction of a superhighway and abandoned factories are a mirror for the luckless residents who are filled with anxious uncertainty (the year is 2001). A trio of disaffected teens are at the core of this strange crossroads and numb themselves with pop music, Tarantino films, and cartoons while dreaming of faraway places.
Linda Linda Linda
Nobuhiro Yamashita’s understated tale of struggling teen girls who form a band is told with naturalism, humor, and disarming emotion.
Show Me Love
Moodysson’s achingly beautiful brand of realism in Show Me Love, about two girls (one secretly in love with the other), puts most American movies exploring teen confusion to shame. In his review, Roger Ebert wrote:
It’s about these specific people and their lives. . . . Show Me Love is not really about sexuality. It’s more about vegetating in a town that makes the girls feel trapped. And it sees that the fault is not in the town but in the girls: Maybe their boredom is a pose. Maybe all teenagers in every town feel like nothing is happening in their lives, and they will never find love or be understood or do thrilling things. Maybe that’s just human nature. In its quiet, intelligent, understated way, this film loves teenagers; most teen movies just use them.
Don’t Deliver Us From Evil
Two convent schoolgirls secretly worship Satan and make a blood oath to perform evil acts during their summer holiday. They wreak havoc in the French countryside — seducing men, setting fires, indulging in forbidden books, and eventually committing murder. The film is based on director Joël Séria’s own struggles as a teenager in a religious boarding school and the real-life Parker–Hulme murder case of 1954. Don’t Deliver Us From Evil sends a clear message about societal hypocrisies and figureheads who have little regard for youth.
Gus Van Sant’s debut film, the first movie in a long line of male character studies, Mala Noche is a tale of unrequited love in 1980s Portland. A gay man becomes infatuated with an unattainable and troubled Mexican teen, but vainly settles for his friend instead. The Village Voice described Mala Noche as a “rhapsodic slacker noir pitched on the edge of physical and emotional darkness (the title means “Bad Night”).”
The fact that Ginger Snaps is a werewolf film becomes almost secondary in this smartly subversive, feminist horror gem that uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for hormonal distress and teen angst.
You Killed Me First
Many are familiar with the star of You Killed Me First, Lung Leg, thanks to Sonic Youth featuring the underground icon on the cover of their album EVOL. The boldly bloody You Killed Me First comes from New York City artist and filmmaker Richard Kern’s experimental oeuvre from the 1980s — a true transgressive cinema classic.
A neorealist, tragic view of teen lust and obsession, set against seedy ‘70s London.
Alice Rohrwacher’s sublime debut finds thirteen year-old Marta returning to southern Italy after living in Switzerland, shuffled into a confirmation class. Her mother’s attempt to assimilate the inquisitive and astute teen doesn’t suit Marta, who forges her own path toward an awakening.
Totally Fucked Up
One of the seminal films in the New Queer Cinema movement, and the first entry in Gregg Araki’s wild-eyed Teen Apocalypse Trilogy, the filmmaker described his pseudo-documentary about struggling gay and lesbian teens best: “A rag-tag story of the fag-and-dyke teen underground. . . . A kinda cross between avant-garde experimental cinema and a queer John Hughes flick.”