Yung (2018)

Yung first published by EyeforFilmY

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 it 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. 

© Anton Bitel