Sounds Like Teen Spirit

Sounds Like Teen Spirit


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

First, a word of warning: if you are one of those people who flees the room when the Eurovision Song Contest is on, and who just doesn't understand why anyone would want to put on glittery clothes and dance around singing pop music, this film is not for you - in fact, you could probably reclassify it as horror. If, however, you love all things Eurovision, this self-described 'popumentary' is fantastic! The fact that it focuses on the lesser-known junior event doesn't make one bit of difference. There are cheesy yet heartfelt songs, fabulous costumes, spectacular onstage antics, disco lights, overwrought supporters, dreams of romance, laughter, and tears. It's an enormously enjoyable experience.

No matter how seriously one might try to approach film criticism, there's no denying that some films cry out for good reviews because they're fun, and this is one of those. It may be going over the top with its bold claims that the spirit of Eurovision can bring about world peace (the irony here is refreshingly underplayed) but it is genuinely uplifting to see so many people coming together full of national pride and yet finding friendship and community. For the young stars it's particularly exciting because many come from backgrounds where they've never met other people who share their love of song and performance. And this film is very much about the children. There's not a single pushy stage mother in sight. All of them have written their own songs and developed their own routines; they're confident and passionate about what they do. Move over Hannah Montana - this is the real thing.

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The children, all aged between ten and 15, come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Belgian group Trust are very well organised and perform much like an adult pop group, though their singer, Eve, expresses wistful hopes of meeting a cute boy at the contest. Cypriot Yiorgos has been bullied at school by kids who called him gay, but his dream of singing opera has transformed his life. Perhaps the most charming is Georgian singer Mari, an unassuming girl from an impoverished background whose very presence at the event is a dream come true, who seems to have her whole country behind her and whose simple ambition is that, through her song, people in Europe might come to know more about Georgia.

Of course, there can only be one winner, and the competition inevitably ends in tears for many of the children, but this moment - beautifully handled by the filmmakers - is perhaps the most important, as they gain a different understanding of what the whole thing has been worth to them. Afterwards we get a brief update on what has happened to them since. One can't help but suspect that, with so much drive, they will all find some success in life despite the difficult conditions many face at home.

By letting the children speak for themselves, director Jamie Jay Johnson has delivered a very different perspective on children's competitions and on what it means to be a child in the 21st century. Despite the glamorous subject matter there is not a hint of inappropriate sexualisation here, but it's not all twee cuteness either. We see plenty of backstage problems. We get in close when there are crises of confidence and the subjects talk frankly about problems in their lives. What results is something that feels profoundly real, despite all the glitter.

If you didn't know about Junior Eurovision before, you'll be left wanting to check it out. All the proceeds from votes go to UNICEF, so in doing so you'll be helping children worldwide. If it's half as much fun as this film makes it look, you're in for a treat.

Reviewed on: 30 May 2009
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A documentary following contestants in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.
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Director: Jamie Jay Johnson

Starring: Mariam Romelashvili, Yiorgos Ioannides, Ilona Galytska, Eva Storme, Mirek Coutigny, Matthieu Renier, Laurens Platteeuw

Year: 2008

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK


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