Young Gods is an engaging and effective Finnish movie about the hard lessons learned by a group of young men.
The film has a salacious tag line; it is about a group of young men who decide to videotape their various sexual encounters with women and then show them off to one another. But that hook is merely a facade to a good solid drama that manages to stay entertaining and relevant without being didactic.
18-year-old Taavi (Jussi Nikkila) videotapes everything in his life ever since the untimely - and gruesome - death of this parents. One night he invites his friends to a mansion party. That night he secretly tapes his guests in their drunken state having sex or laying around partly undressed. The next day they watch the tape and come up with the idea to film their sexual encounters with women.
But right from the start they realize it won't be all fun and games. The various other guys - Jeri (Reino Nordin), Markus (Jarkko Niemi) and Sami (Ville Kivela) - all try their hand at making the best tape. Jeri tries to trick his girlfriend, Markus gets a couple prostitutes, Sami meets no one but pretends that the camera has fallen over. Each in their own way long for a real intimate loving relationship but will not admit that. Eventually Jeri, Marcus and Sami will encounter their own unique situations that will teach them right from wrong.
It all sounds heavy handed but it isn't. The strength of the film is the writing by Jukka Vieno and the directing by Jukka-Pekka Siili who develops characters and scenes very well. The acting by the young cast is also well above average. As the film unfolds it has a realistic feeling and - far from being a TV movie - it takes some hard dramatic turns.
From a filmmaking content Young Gods has a similar narrative thread as an Atom Egoyan film Family Viewing as well as the look and feel of a Dogma 95 film. In this way the film has an intellectual edge but it pushes the drama into interesting areas that make the audience uncomfortable but also makes us think.
The film deals, primarily, with the emptiness of the pornographic image and particularly the emptiness of performing only for the sake of the camera. Where porn stars have the ability to think only in terms of performing, these young men think that they can toe the line between real intimacy and secretly taping their conquests. But they cannot unless they are willing to confront the women they are with, be honest about their intentions and explore from there. But as the film so clearly points out - if a relationship is only based upon creating a titilating image then the relationship will only be between the imagemaker, the image he creates and the image [or the camera] not between sexual partners. Especially if the image is done on the sly without permission of the participant. That instead is the antithesis of intimacy and will only lead to unfullfilment and possibly trouble.
The film, of course, deals with the very primacy of the images - or movies - themselves. However, there is a pretty good line between a fictional film done with consent and something done as a trick to satisfy the rules of a game which some would call cruel.
Set up like a moral tale Young Gods takes a couple dark turns but all for the sake of good Scandinavian drama. The film does have nudity but it does not undermine the themes or the message.
The DVD is presented anamorphic with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The movie is shot a lot in dark interiors so the colors are warm but the image retains a good clarity with some grain present.
Audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby 5.1 and sounds excellent. The film is in Finnish with removable English or Spanish subtitles.
The most interesting extra is a music video by a rock group named Versus who have a couple songs in the movie. The video is pretty standard as it shows scenes from the movie crosscut with the band singing. The quality of the image and sound is excellent. The only other extras are trailers, which include the original Finnish trailer for Young Gods. There are also 11 trailers for other Picture This! films including Schizo, Beach Cafe, Great Water and Clara's Summer.
One note: The DVD box art leads one to believe there is a homosexual element or even homoerotic elements in the film. But the film does not have either of this. True, the film does have male nudity and one scene with naked men together but it is much the same way that men are together in a locker room.
Young Gods is a very well directed, written and acted Finnish film about teen boys who go too far video taping their sexual exploits. For the subject matter alone I'm surprised that it never got picked up and released in the United States. Doubly so because of the smart way the subject is handled. The DVD looks and sounds excellent. Recommended.