Teenage (12A)

When do children stop being children? And how long should children be allowed to be children?

Two questions of disarming depth, and both answered via a century (and more) of testimonies from the kids of the past who, for a whole variety of reasons, had their childhood snatched away.

Teenage is an unusual film. Part documentary, part oral history project, it attempts to give a contemporary voice to the millions of youngsters who, in the name of industry, agriculture or conflict were snatched from the embrace of childhood.

Through archive material, diary entries and those stark monochrome pictures from the past that show hollow-eyed kids looking older than their years, a range of actors give life to their words.

The message is often a grim one made more so by the veracity of the reminiscences. It makes for often-painful listening/viewing. And the image of lives being stolen in the name of child labour is both universal and timeless.

Among the famous names lending their collective voice are Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw. Jason Schwartzman acted as an executive producer.

But in amongst the grainy images of hard-faced urchins are more modern examples of teens being attacked for their forward-looking ways. In 1930s Germany it was the swing kids – young jazz fans – who caught the eye of the Nazis.

So much misunderstanding. So much anger and fear of adolescents. Teenage (by co-writer/director Matt Wolf) is a film that underlines what it is to be between childhood and adulthood, and how no-one understands. Then and now.

On limited release.

Star rating: ***

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