Berlinale 2023 review: The Lost Boys (Zeno Graton)

“Graton shows solid control and a terrific use of the camera in his debut feature. But most importantly, he shows compassion.”

Graton’s debut feature opens with the images of an old stone building among the trees. But despite the nice surroundings every image has another layer, of fences, bars and security precautions. We’re in a youth correctional facility for underage boys, and it’s unmistakably a prison.

Joe is our focus here. A young Arab boy making a run for his freedom. His attempt at an escape ends up near the sea. That’s all he wanted to see, we’ll learn later on. Obviously the sea represents hope for a free future for the boy, but also creates a direct cinematic reference to Truffaut’s masterpiece Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows). This reference will repeat later on, at a key point, with another escape attempt. The facility is filled with young boys and children of several ages, serving their time there, waiting and projecting for the day they’ll finally be free. If that time ever comes.

That time is near for Joe. He plans for his freedom. Owning an apartment, surviving by himself. But things change when there’s a new kid on the block. At first glance William looks as different from him as possible. But after his introduction Graton’s unashamedly big musical choices all fall into place. He could’ve even used Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and it would make perfect sense. Because this film is about two young boys, almost 18, finding love in a hopeless place.

Joe expresses himself better through music. William draws. An ouroboros he drew catches Joe’s attention. The figure of a snake / dragon eating its own tail is the image of a protector for William. A “dragon of the north”, a protector of the sea. Joe offers us another symbol, a line of fishes hibernating in a frozen river. He used to believe that they’d wake up in spring. But growing up means learning they were not sleeping, simply dead all along. All these metaphors piling onto each other are maybe a bit too much. But The Lost Boys is trying to capture the essence of youth, with their enthusiasm, expectations, larger than life emotions and most of all, their anger. So Graton doesn’t shy away. William tattoos that snake / dragon on Joe’s arm. It’s a form of rebellion for both. But doing it in front of their friends’ admiring eyes also means a physical manifestation of their love.

But Joe, William, or any of the other boys still do not see what the system plans for them. The film’s symbolism shadows what is truly in store for them in the long run. The system is the snake eating its own tail, the system does not care for these kids. The staff in the field are different, they make an effort because they know the boys, and it’s personal for all of them now. But the system, despite its human faces, only cares about the regulations, the data, the laws. It is all about punishing and controlling. Sooner or later the kids will face that fact, and it will only create more anger. Joe and William, our two boys in love, will possibly destroy their lives with that anger. But The Lost Boys is a surprisingly romantic film in every aspect, and it offers a fitting conclusion. Love found in a hopeless place may be enough to make it a paradise.

Graton shows solid control and a terrific use of the camera in his debut feature. But most importantly, he shows compassion. His 400 Blows-influenced story of gay love and teenage angst is not reinventing the wheel, but offers genuine humanity.

(c) Image copyright: Tarantula, Silex Films, Menuetto Film