Young & Afraid review – raw and intimate study of young people’s mental health crisis | Movies

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This scrappy, rough-around-the-edges documentary from Norway is directed by two friends and began after one of them, Petter Aaberg, attempted to kill himself. It’s a fly-on-the-wall study of Aaberg and four other young Norwegians struggling with their mental health. It is raw and intense, and also troubling in places: Aaberg and Kvamme keep the camera rolling on these vulnerable people in moments of crisis, testing the limits of documentary ethics.

One of their subjects is Monica, whose arms are horrifically scarred by self-harm. A sexual abuse survivor, she lives in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. We see her having a panic attack in the street after hearing a car backfire. Monica introduces the directors to Emma, her trans friend who is struggling with the agonisingly long wait for surgery. Another subject is heroin addict Cornelia, who is filmed injecting herself and being rushed to hospital, her umpteenth overdose. I wasn’t convinced that showing moments such as this, honest and hard-hittingly intimate as they are, take us any closer to understanding Monica, Emma or Cordelia.

In fact, the person we watch most is co-director Aaberg: his story monopolises the film in a way that some viewers may find narcissistic. But his openness and vulnerability, his willingness to say exactly whatever he is feeling in the moment, is disarming. He starts a relationship with another woman, Miriam, and there’s a scene of two of them having sex which is filmed with huge sensitivity; it’s genuinely not exploitative.

As the film progresses, it’s clear the relationship between the directors and their subjects has developed into friendship. Aaberg and Kvamme talk in an interview about the agreement they had with their subjects, who could pull out at any point and had approval on the final cut of the film. Is it enough? Do they cross the line? I wasn’t sure.

Young & Afraid is available on 25 February on True Story.



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