Coming of age stories are integral to modern filmmaking and storytelling. Consequently, offering us a window into the complexity, joy, frustration, and urgency of the teenage experience and, at the same time, reflecting the intense feelings and powerful emotions of the journey into adult life. As a genre, ‘coming of age’ has housed some of the most vibrant and compelling films of the past 40 years. While also adapting over time to reflect the changing experiences of childhood and adolescence. Changes that have seen the gap between the child and the adult increase as education has filled the void left by a quick transition to working life. We often forget that the ‘teenager’ is a relatively new label for the transition from child to adult, with films not only a significant instigator and exponent of its creation. But also a mirror to its continuing evolution.
So join us as we explore the rich diversity of the coming of age genre and celebrate some of its finest examples of art and storytelling.
Stand By Me (1986)
Director: Rob Reiner
Based on the Stephen King novella ‘The Body, ’ Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is one of the greatest coming of age films ever produced. A love letter to simpler times, childhood freedom and the role of friendship in early adolescence. Stand by Me dovetails 1950’s nostalgia with a layered exploration of family, friendship, bereavement and belonging that still feels timeless and fresh.
Stand by Me is a celebration of childhood in all its boundless imagination and wonder while also mourning the transition to a darker adult world. Reiner’s direction alongside a stunning young cast is delicate, energetic, touching, and melancholy. Reminding us all of the conflicts between dreams and reality as we take our first tentative steps into adult experiences. The excitement of adult ideas interfacing with a need for comfort, understanding and protection as the child and teenager collide.
I Killed My Mother (2009)
‘J’ai Tue Ma Mere’
Director: Xavier Dolan
In 2009 Xavier Dolan burst into the public consciousness as one of the most exciting young writers and directors of a generation with I Killed My Mother. The resulting film echoing the anger, frustration and hurt of teenager life. While equally providing a dance of conflict, unspoken love and pettiness. Dolan wrote his screenplay at the tender age of 16, with the teenage mind’s intensity and dynamism embodied in his script. Themes of family breakdown and sexuality dovetailing with the need to escape the maternal bonds of fractured parental relationship. All wrapped up in a film that understands the complexities of the teenage/parent relationship and anger of youth.
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Several films are held within this collection reflect the end of one era and the start of another. These movies encapsulate school life’s final days against the backdrop of a changing social structure. However, The Last Picture Show, more than many, encapsulates the claustrophobia of small-town life for young people screaming to be free. While at the same time reflecting a community struggling to embrace the social change surrounding it.
The rare choice of black and white film in early 70s cinema is a masterstroke and evidence of Bogdanovich’s genius. The result of which creates a timeless aesthetic alongside the light and dark of a town in decline. The fears, apprehension and vitality of young people on display who are wrapped in security and despondency. The honest, raw and sublime picture that follows at times reflecting a John Ford western. While also delivering a personal, complex and engaging reflection of the confusion, joy and anger of caged youth.
A Swedish Love Story (1970)
Director: Roy Andersson
Few films encapsulate teenage emotion and intensity, like Roy Andersson’s 1970 tale of young love. Tenderly exploring the first throws of passion while equally balancing the diversity of emotions with peer group and family structures. Here, Ingmar Bergman’s depth combines with a darkly comic, tender and nuanced coming of age tale. One that often pokes fun at the far more mainstream American offerings of the period. Ensuring realism is placed centre stage in exploring the dynamics of young love. While equally placing the role of the family under the microscope in a gentle yet equally devastating way.
Largely overlooked in the coming of age genre, A Swedish Love Story is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful explorations of first love on screen. Glowing with sincerity and honesty from the opening scene to the last.
Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
Director: Louis Malle
Louis Malles1987 masterpiece ‘Au Revoir Les Enfants’ is a genuinely breathtaking exploration of the end of childhood during war. One that shines with natural, unforced performances highlighting innocence in the face of conflict, destruction, and hate.
Set in a Catholic boarding school in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. Twelve-year-old Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is caught between an occupying force’s ideology and a community of silent rebellion versus acceptance. Often struggling to unpick the feelings and thoughts of the adults surrounding him. But when a new boy enrols at the school called Jean (Raphaël Fejtö). Julien finds a friend who is equally artistic and dreamy. A boy who, while quiet and reserved, allows Julian to escape the confusion of the world around him. However, as their friendship grows, Julian is also confused by Jean’s close protection in the school headmaster’s hands. His young mind not grasping that Jean’s enrolment at the school hides a secret. One that, if uncovered, could lead to disaster for the boy and the teachers protecting him.