Matthieu Bareyre's documentary, YOUNG AND ALIVE, follows a bunch of French teenagers on a night out in Paris. Some of the footage shows them dancing in clubs or making out on street corners. A lot of it shows them doing the kind of feckless stuff that has people of my generation rolling their eyes - getting wasted, running through the streets aimless, generally wasting time. But what the documentary shows is that amid the wasters are teenagers that are acutely politically aware, cynical and frustrated.
A theme that comes up time again is the lack of job opportunities in a country with rigid labour laws and high youth unemployment. Added to this, a number of them point to outright racism on the part of recruiters: you can't get a job at McDonald's because your name sounds like a terrorist. Some say they had to drop out of school at 16 to earn money, only to find out that drug pushing was the only job opportunity. Another says she has to stay in school because these days a school leaving certificate or even a first degree isn't enough to secure a job.
The other theme that comes up repeatedly is that of systematic inequality - particularly on the grounds of race or religion. Shot in the wake of Charlie Hebdo, one particularly articulate interviewee starts crying describing how many people die in Ghana each day but no-one cares. "Liberty for who? Equality for who? Fraternity for who?" That same interviewer draws a parallel between the history of concentration camps taught at school and the situation in refugee camps today. "We're not killing them with gas but we leave them to die in the mud." These are profound observations about what it means to live in a society that calls itself civilised. And that teaches us something profound too - not to stigmatise youth as feckless because they do what we did - drink and do stupid goody shit - but to recognise them as politically aware and active and sometimes victims of a stacked system. It's rare for a doc to change your perspective but this one really did.
YOUNG AND ALIVE has a running time of 96 minutes. It played at the Locarno Film Festival where it won three prizes. It is playing in the documentary competition at this year's BFI London Film Festival. There are still tickets available for both screenings.