Tallinn Film Festival: Day One

Capsule reviews of Between Covers and Yung

by Anton Bitel

Yung: The opening sequence contains all the ingredients that will make Henning Gronkowski's feature debut such a slippery piece of work
Yung: The opening sequence contains all the ingredients that will make Henning Gronkowski's feature debut such a slippery piece of work Photo: Courtesy of PÖFF
My very first day in Tallinn, where the weather is mild, the people friendly, and the films plentiful.

Between Covers (Hölma all)

The opening image of writer/director Siima Tamm's feature debut - a wide shot of a snow-covered icy lake, all white and blank and unforgiving - sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the film. For Between Covers (Hölma all) is to be a minimalist project, unfolding with a chilly sparseness that requires viewers to bring their own warmth.

Marti (Erki Laur) lives alone in the Estonian woodlands, working outdoors, reading, and heating up by the stove or even in the sauna attached to his isolated home. His only outside contact - and he likes it that way - is the kindly local shopkeeper Kalev (Andres Lepik), with whom he often engages in conversations about books, personal choice and the human condition.

When a young woman, Irene (Jaanika Arum), turns up on his doorstep ill-dressed for the late winter and carrying a letter for him to read, Marti knows that his own past choices have caught up with him, and that he will need to make another - the best he can out of bad options - to define both who he is and who he has become. Irene is meant only to spend the night, but Marti negotiates for her to stay two days longer - and as the relationship between this pair, at first so tense and prickly, starts to thaw, two men (Rasmus Kaljujärv, Pääru Oja) idle in a car, waiting for something to happen… The result is a slow-burning existential noir which explores the deep-seated irrationality of man, while suggesting that the best hope for improvement might rest in literature.

Yung

The camera practically hugs young Jana (Janaina Liesenfield) as it tracks her walking over to a car outside school and getting in."How was your day at school?" the late-middle-aged man driving asks her, "What did you do over the weekend?". We might be forgiven for assuming from these banal exchanges that he is her estranged father, picking her up for the weekend - but in the next scene, we see them in a hotel room together, where he has sex with her, for money. Janaina is 17.

This opening sequence contains all the ingredients that will make Henning Gronkowski's feature debut such a slippery piece of work. On the one hand it plays out like a shockumentary, following four female school friends (Leisenfield, Emily Lau, Joy Grant, Abbie Dutton) on their all-out, no-holds-barred descent into sex and drugs and techno'n'roll, and even including to-camera interviews with them (or at least with the homonymous actors who play them). Yet there is something about the extreme intimacy of the camerawork - all beautifully lit close-ups, even when the girls are engaged in private or criminal acts - that tells against the documentary form, reminding us that this access-all-areas film is, like the girls, replacing reality with a mediated sensational facsimile, somewhere between porn shoot, selfie, youtube video and cam girl session.

Yung plays out like Kids (1995) relocated to Berlin, or Trainspotting (1996) retold from Diane Coulston's point of view, or Christiane F. (1981) updated to the digital age. As its shows an endless party of sexual exploration, drug dealing and addiction, online sex work and date rape, it stays very close to its subjects while somehow simultaneously maintaining a critical distance. For the only thing that these young people have on their side is youth itself, with the future looking a whole lot more bleak than their hedonistic present of half-denial and self-destruction. If it begins with Jana and a man who is not her father, it ends with Jana and her actual mother, caught in a moment of close familial affection. Jana has it all - but whether she is taking the best, as opposed to just the fullest, advantage of it all is left very much open to question.

  • Read capsule reviews of Lorik, Erased, Deep Rivers and The World Is Yours
  • Read capsule reviews of As I Fall and Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  • Read capsule reviews of Slam and Potential Victim
  • Read capsule reviews of Lonesome Collectors, Cursed Seat, The Pact and The Fall Of The American Empire
  • Read further full reviews and features from Tallinnn Black Nights Film Festival here

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