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Sounds Like Teen Spirit

Sounds Like Teen Spirit

Review by Michael Edwards

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

CONTRARY to the implication contained within the title, this has nothing to do with ‘90s grunge band Nirvana. In fact, Sounds Like Teen Spirit is a quirky documentary chronicling the fortunes of four young teenagers from across Europe as they fight to compete in the 2007 Junior Eurovision contest.

It’s a wry concept that starts out politely poking fun at silly youngsters who embed their dreams of escaping their ‘loser’ labels and winds up a much bigger, better, portrait of European youth.

The consensus in the UK seems to be that Eurovision is mere petty politicking that isn’t worth the waste of an evening. Director Jamie J Johnson has embraced this derision to a large degree and makes some great visual commentaries on the absurdity of the whole affair, with moments such as young Cypriot Giorgios’s father reminding him that he need not worry: “We will at least get 12 points from Greece.”

But the story goes beyond merely poking fun at this pageant of politics and backwater musicians. The stories of each of the contestants, far from being the tale of a group of losers who want to make it big, expands into a heartfelt journey with a group of dedicated, fun and excitable children.

Their personal traumas, their hopes and their dreams are captured with surprising efficiency. With such a total lack of artifice and such endearing characters, it’s impossible not to become sucked into the story of these plucky youngsters.

In fact, it’s is so affecting that this is a documentary that may even change your mind about Eurovision – or at least about the junior division!

The main criticism is that, for some reason, Johnson decided that the film needed its humorous side emphasized. Worse still, he thought the best way to do that was to mock the contest itself by presenting it as a tongue-in-cheek solution to the divisions and wars that have wracked Europe for centuries.

Through awkwardly inserted and poorly narrated montages of frog-marching soldiers, explosions over trenches and men with large moustaches, this quasi-comedic device was shoehorned in unnecessarily.

The real talent on show in this film is not a director’s eye for the wry, or even the musical masterworks of these little pop stars, in fact it is the incredible skills shown by this small documentary crew in finding such a fun, open group of youngsters and capturing their most entertaining, interesting and intimate moments without falling into the falsehoods of lesser documentaries like the recently released American Teen.

The sincerity fostered by this intimacy and complete absence of a staged feel (with the exception of the pageantry of the big event itself, of course) is what makes this an excellent documentary. It’s fun, it’s moving and it’s a fulfilling journey that’s destined for cult status.

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UK DVD Release: September 14, 2009