Turbulent Teens

Turbulent Teens – I Killed My Mother, Kes, Girlhood, The Dreamers, Mommy and Léolo


Spotlight Classics: Turbulent Teens – six unmissable movies exploring the volatility, confusion and anger of adolescence.


Director: Xavier Dolan

In 2009 Xavier Dolan burst onto the scene as one of the most exciting young writers and directors of a generation with I Killed My Mother. Dolan would explore the anger, frustration and hurt of teenage life through conflict, unspoken love and the need for escape as a mother and son clashed in a dance of independence. Dolan wrote the screenplay for I Killed My Mother at the tender age of sixteen, and due to this, he manages to convey the volatility of youth in a way few adult writers could muster. Here themes of family breakdown, emerging sexuality and an urgent need for independence dovetail with the need to escape parental control in a film that understands the complexities and fireworks of the teenage/parent relationship.

KES (1969)

Director: Ken Loach

Ken Loach’s second feature film, Kes, would see him adapt Barry Hines’ novel A Kestrel for a Knave, working closely with the author to maintain the book’s themes. Here Loach would explore the British education system and its failure of working-class children, as it forced them into manual labour despite their skills and abilities. Influenced by the Kitchen Sink movement and Italian neo-realism, Loach would craft a film bathed in documentary-like realism as he unpicked late 60s Britain and the class divide that haunted education, employment and opportunity.

Loach beautifully captures the hostile environment surrounding young Billy and the moments of calm and solitude he finds through his Kestral Kes as the adult world threatens to derail his freedom. Here Loach layers Billy’s journey with moments of humour, love, and profound sadness as Kes lays bare the realities of poverty, class oppression and isolation. While we would hope things had now moved on, Billy’s life and Loach’s commentary sadly still feel all too relevant in Britain today.



Director: Céline Sciamma

In Water Lilies and Tomboy, Céline Sciamma explored emerging identity, sexuality and gender through social pressures, forced conformity and emerging individuality. Girlhood would build on these core themes while exploring the social barriers of oppression, race and poverty at the heart of modern France. Girlhood is an intimate exploration of the need for escape and shared identity as it follows young Marieme as she escapes her family life through a gang of girls in a poor Paris suburb. But the sense of belonging and safety Marieme seeks comes at a price as she sacrifices her old self.

Céline Sciamma’s delicate yet compelling exploration of the rocky road to adulthood is fraught with anxiety, joy and uncertainty as she explores the working-class experience of a group of black girls in a society that ignores their talents, worth and culture.



Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

The 1960s would see a new generation define the cultural landscape of the Western world. This new generation was bold and creative, driven by a collective need to wipe away the sterility of the past. They rebelled against their parent’s view of the world and challenged political thinking while also giving birth to a new form of cinema, art and expressionism. Bernardo Bertolucci’s, The Dreamers is set during the student protests and riots that engulfed Paris in 1968, but this is no ordinary coming-of-age story of rebellion. Bertolucci’s hormonal and sexual story is about art, film and personal reinvention. It’s about the need for escape, belonging, and the rebellious urge to define new boundaries in sex and love.

Alive with hormonal energy, excitement and uncertainty, Bertolucci captures the vibrant colours of youth in a way few films have managed through the heat of infatuation and the joy and pain of sexual discovery. The Dreamers eloquently plays with expressionism and escape and is never afraid to take its audience into the blurred lines between art, sex and cinema as American conservatism meets European liberalism.

MOMMY (2014)

Director: Xavier Dolan

If I Killed My Mother announced the arrival of Xavier Dolan, then Mommy cemented his place as one of his generation’s most exciting writer/directors. Mommy would embrace the loneliness and uncontrollable anger of teenage rebellion and the heartbreak of parental support against all odds through a poignant, emotional and beautiful story of a mother’s struggle to support her volatile son. But Dolan’s film is also a dissection of isolation, rebellion, freedom and social imprisonment. Here each character screams for escape as they claw at the social bars that keep them contained. Mommy is Xavier Dolan at his best, as he wraps his audience in stunning cinematography and sublime performances that never shy away from the powerful themes of heartbreak, love and despair held in Mommy’s captivating screenplay. Once seen, never forgotten, Mommy is a modern masterpiece.


LÉOLO (1992)

Director: Jean-Claude Lauzon

Is Lauzon’s French-Canadian film a dark fantasy or a powerful exploration of adolescent mental health, sexual discovery and dysfunctional family life? This question remains debated over 30 years after Léolo’s release as we follow young Léo Lozeau as he writes in his journal. Lauzon’s film swings from Léo’s fantasy world to the darkness of the real world surrounding him. His imaginary world is full of childhood fears, comedy, fantasies and uncertain but exciting new sexual thoughts. At the same time, his external world is rooted in fragmented family relationships, declining mental health and community isolation.

While Lauzon’s film may initially inhabit Italian-inspired dark comedy, Léolo takes a much more serious turn as we realise that Léo has no choice but to live in the fantasy world of his writing, the real world far too painful and upsetting for his young mind. As Léo says, “Solitude is my castle. That’s where I have my chair, my table, my bed, my breeze and my sun. When I sit anywhere but in my solitude. I sit in exile. I sit in Fakeland. Because I dream, I’m not”. Here Lauzon offers us a profoundly challenging and complex portrait of adolescent mental health and escapism through the often grotesque dream-like state of a boy trying to make sense of an incomprehensible adult world.


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