"If you neglect the world around you, you stop living. If you shut other people out, what's life worth?"
Don't get me wrong--I like watching a bunch of rich, sexually charged guys behaving badly in an all-male boarding school bursting with homoerotic imagery just as much as the rest of you. So I was more than happy to check out Teenage Angst, the oddly generic title (perhaps engineered by marketers for a North American DVD audience) of director Thomas Stuber's 61-minute German film.
It focuses on the relationship among four young men at an exclusive private school: Konstantin Sturmer (Franz Dinda) is the film's central character, who arrives back on campus after a family funeral; Drybusch (Niklas Kohrt) is the aggressive alpha male leader of the pack, a vocal, charismatic dictator; Bogatsch (Michael Ginsburg) is Drybusch's right-hand man, following his leader's narrow-minded, power hungry, woman-hating ways; and Leibnitz (Janusz Kocaj) is the quiet doormat aching for acceptance. All four are watched over by a skeptical school supervisor (Michael Schweighöfer) who tries to keep them focused but proves to be out of touch.
At Drybusch's request, the four friends frequently retreat at night to an abandoned home close to campus, where drugs and hazing rituals separate the men from the boys. "We have assembled today to eternally remove living a lie and public school kid stuff," says the leader. "Self-denial, morals, discipline, social service...bullshit! That's not reality!" Drybusch envisions his own Lord of the Flies existence, where the young men construct their own rules and family, defend their fort and play in their quest for the two most important things in life: money and muff. "The fall from grace..." notes Drybusch of his Bible studies, "the moment human beings learn good from bad, they are like God. And God fears that."
But after an incident involving a local waitress with some poor judgment of her own (Stephanie Schönfeld), the group becomes further fractured as tough guys Drybusch and Bogatsch exert their control over Leibnitz and Konstantin--who slowly begins to question the point of their fraternity. Things get further out of hand, and Leibnitz becomes a bigger target while Konstantin tries to balance his desire to be popular with his quest to do the right thing--and stand up against the bullies.
The film, like most of its characters, has an inflated sense of itself. The four young men are more ideas than people, and the movie is an amateur mix of many movies--like School Ties, The Outsiders, Mean Creek and a ton of others--that do a much better job at portraying the pain of adolescence, the desire for acceptance, the ache of loneliness and the danger of group think.
The final scenes hint at something meaningful, but ultimately wimp out. Leibnitz and Bogatsch in particular fall victim to writer Holger Jäckle's artistic ambitions, as their actions (or inactions) become convenient story devices that betray what could have been more believable developments. The standoff at the end and its aftermath at the school are riddled with melodramatic moments (you've got to be kidding me with the bathroom door scene!), severely hampering the film's ending and overall impact.
Teenage Angst isn't bad, it's just not unique enough to stand out. Given 30 more minutes, the film might have been able to save itself. Stuber is a young director (this film picked up a cinematography award at a student film festival), and he has clear talent. The project dabbles with deep meaning but ultimately drowns in its lofty goals, relying on relatively amateurish drug use and dirty deeds--and virtually no character development (who are these boys, anyway?!). There's promise, but Teenage Angst is just kids' play.
The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, what looks to be 2.35:1. The film is very dark, and a lot of detail is frequently lost in the darker scenes. Colors seem intentionally dull, and the image frequently has uniform tones, mostly greens and browns. While overall the image isn't always sharp, you can still see detail in foreground images. Some minor grain is present, and a few times you'll notice a quick flicker of small white specs. Overall it's a strong presentation, and the problems are minor. I wasn't a fan of the English subtitles; they get the job done, but aren't quite solid enough--some minor jagged edges are a very mild distraction.
The German track is available in 5.1 and 2.0 options, each with English and Spanish subtitles. The 5.1 track packs a powerful punch (mostly front loaded) for such a small movie; it does a good job of placing you in the modest action. Dialogue is always distinct and strong.
You get a photo gallery and trailers, but the only extra with substance is the 15-minute French film Baby Shark (Bebe Requin), presented in a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer with optional English and Spanish subtitles. The 2005 work from director Pascal-Alex Vincent was nominated for the Palme D'Or Award for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival, and has a similar focus of angry, horny teens longing for meaning and acceptance. The short film is broken into three quick stories: a skateboarder tries to get some action from two slackers sitting on a couch; a nerdy high school boy fawns over a classmate; and a young man gets angry at his twin, resulting in a creepy (and violent) conclusion. It's an odd collection that relies on shock value more than anything else, with plenty of sexually suggestive (and plenty of not-so-suggestive) imagery.
If you're a big fan of all-male boarding school stories that flirt with drug use and pent-up sexual aggression under the guise of meaningful life lessons about being true to yourself, have at it. Teenage Angst isn't bad, but it isn't good enough to stand out--and offers very little by way of meaningful character development. It's a short, modest look at the pain of adolescence and the danger of group think, a subject plenty of other feature-length films have done much better. Rent It.