“Teens are wallowing in luxury” would be a typical tabloid headline describing young people today. Teens demand designer goods and mobile phones and have no idea how tough life can be, the claim goes. But that’s not how the world looks to Xenia. A 14- year-old girl living in Ishøj, a Copenhagen satellite suburb, with her mother and three younger siblings, Xenia has all but taken on the role of father in the family (their actual father left years ago). She is so committed to her brothers and sisters that it’s becoming detrimental to her schoolwork and her social life. Xenia is the film’s protagonist and uncrowned heroine. She is honest and funny and a far cry from the media image of pampered teens. A strong, tough girl who takes on responsibility, Xenia has a lot to struggle with.
Since graduating from the National Film School of Denmark in 1997 Anders Gustafsson has orbited Danish youth – in his documentaries and his highly acclaimed fictional feature Scratch (2003), which, along with other films, such as "Kick’n Rush" (Aage Rais Nordentoft, 2003), "Rule no. 1" (Oliver Ussing, 2003), and "Life Hits" (Christian E. Christiansen, 2006), breathed new life into Danish youth films. “Youth films were a much-maligned genre for years,” Gustafsson says. “But then came a series of quality teen films, reminding producers that it is, in fact, possible to make youth films that sell tickets.”
In 1998, Swedish cinema had opened the playing field for raw portraits of a new generation with Lukas Moodysson’s youth film "Show Me Love". Perhaps Gustafsson’s Swedish roots go some way toward explaining why he joined in putting the spotlight back
on young people. Like the work of his fellow countryman Moodysson, Gustafsson’s films are honest. They don’t unnecessarily dress up reality, nor do they overplay the importance of social heritage.
Gustafsson’s films simply empathize with their characters, showing the world as young people see it. That’s expressed in the extended interview sequences of Xenia and Amanda candidly discussing their thoughts, dreams and concerns. Xenia worries that her mother won’t be able to take care of the three young ones, when Xenia leaves for continuation school. It’s hard not to be touched by her little-adult concern for her mother, and it’s a tremendous relief to witness her behave like any other young person at continuation school, even though that’s not an easy thing for her to do.
TV PORTRAIT OF A GENERATION
"Little Miss Grown-Up" is the first in a series of seven documentaries about young people in Denmark, 2008. The films will be broadcast on Danish TV next spring under the title of "Coming of Age".
Gustafsson co-directed his contribution with his friend and colleague Patrik Book. “Patrik comes from a whole other end of the film scene, but we take a similar view of society and the world,” Gustafsson says. “The project outline said the films should not be afraid to stir debate. We interpreted that as a licence to be critical of society,” he says.
“And there is every good reason to be critical of today’s society. Though life is good for most Danes, a small segment lives in what’s known as ‘relative poverty.’ We wanted to make a film that looks at that life. Sure, Denmark has a good social safety net – case in point, Xenia is able to go to continuation school – but class differences still exist in Denmark – socially, culturally and economically. We wanted to underscore how we don’t all have equal conditions for getting by in society,” he says. Even so, the two filmmakers were determined not to do a story of victimisation. “We wanted a strong person to be the film’s hero,” Gustafsson says.