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Review: Young Gods – Hymypoika (2003)

Directed by: Jukka-Pekka Siili | 90 minutes | drama | Actors: Jenni Banerjee, Jarkko Niemi, Reino Nordin, Jussi Nikkilä, Laura Malmivaara, Ville Virtanen, Kari Heiskanen, Ville Kivelä, Mervi Takatalo

If the sentence “It’s something about today’s youth” is your motto, then you will be served at your beck and call with this film. The characters in “Young Gods” drink, make love and swear as if their lives depended on it. The club doesn’t do much with their lives and they enjoy hanging out aimlessly on the street. Sigh. It is something with today’s youth …

In Finnish “Young Gods” we are introduced to Jere (Nordin) and his friends. The boys have just graduated and are enjoying the free life. Everyone does that in their own way. Jere spends a lot of time with his girlfriend Reetta (Banerjee) and his mates. The tough Markus is constantly on a girl hunt and the obese Sami (Virtanen) is also looking for love.

The quiet, introverted Taavi (Nikilä) is an outsider. Since the death of his parents, the orphan has been continuously filming everything he sees. Life passes him by through his handheld camera. Taavi’s friends are used to their comrade’s somewhat bizarre behavior.
The behavior of Taavi and his environment changes dramatically when the boys make a strange bet. Every lovemaking must be captured on film. The bet slowly drives a wedge between the group of friends when it turns out that not everyone is up to the peer pressure and moral objections associated with the game.

Sexing teenagers, lots of nudes and morals: you would expect to be dealing with the Finnish version of “Ken Park” or “Bully”. Fear not, however, unlike the filthy exploitation of teenage lovemaking that shock director Larry Clark has in his films, “Young Gods” has become a fairly subdued production. Admittedly, there is a lot of nudity in the film, but the camera doesn’t zoom in too emphatically on the actors’ acts of love.

“Young Gods” has a distant and cold appearance. Many images were shot with coarse-grained cameras and static camera angles. And although a lot of naked people parade past, the nude is incorporated into the story in an organic and believable way. This is not a movie with nudity around the nudity. The cold “feel” of the film does make you feel excluded from time to time: you can never really get to know the characters, because the atmosphere never gets intimate.

The way “Young Gods” is portrayed is a mixture of conventional camera angles and lots of wildly swishing handhelds. the look of the film is a cross between a typical teen film and some sort of documentary. This style is familiar to the MTV youth, but older, conventional film viewers will probably have to get used to the short, fierce montages and flashy visual language.

However, the acting is very strong, so that the film is certainly enjoyable for the hard-core fans. The young cast performs beautiful roles and continuously gives you the feeling that you are looking at real people. And that is great, because the dialogues sometimes want to feel pompous and quasi literary.
The plot developments also sometimes take a toll on reality. It should come as no surprise that the story does not end well, but the way in which the young people derail in their search for self-acceptance, group bonding and self-esteem is somewhat far-fetched.
For example, the game of making your own sex videos leads to a very dark quest into the depths of the human soul. Ignorant youngsters who suddenly end up in the shadowy houses of SM couples and seek refuge in rapes are very bizarre. That every person is looking for recognition from a group is not even such a strange idea, but the way in which the young people in this film do that is very over the top.

However, the strange plot developments and cold camera action do not detract from the fact that “Young Gods” has become a fierce and well-played film. You could compare the movie with the anti-drug film “Requiem for a Dream”: that is also a production in which the weaknesses of man lead to a downward spiral of misery. Blunt, hard as nails, but with the heart in the right place.

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