“The Ungrateful Age” (aka “The Tough Teens”) is the first feature film from Bosnia after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Despite its interest as a Bosnian film, its audience is hard to pinpoint, since pic reads as a light and charming kidpic of yore.
Helmer Nenad Dizdarevic finished lensing at the end of March 1992, a scant week before the war in the former Yugoslavia broke out. The negative was trapped in a lab occupied by Serbian forces and had to be smuggled out for post-production in Zagreb and Paris.
Based on Branko Copic’s autobiographical 1950 novel, pic is set on the eve of World War II in a boys’ school. This old world environment is peopled by well-dressed, clean-faced kids, ages 13-15, and old fuss-budget teachers more concerned with discipline than teaching.
A long series of schoolboy pranks is followed by an equally long series of punishments. Dizdarevic individualizes his boys carefully, but their practical jokes have a sameness after a while. Despite some miscarriages of justice, such as the expulsion of an imaginative but penniless country boy, the school contains so little real conflict it looks relatively idyllic.
Adult audiences, perhaps unfairly, will comb the film for references to the current Bosnian situation. An uncredited juvenile cast performs with winning sincerity. Tech credits are fine.