The film touches on issues of loneliness, mental health, coming of age and sexuality. Homophobia and fear of putting trust in someone else lingers throughout in the subtext, confronted head on at the outset when Kirill alludes to being the victim of a violent assault when he was in Russia. By making early reference to Kirill’s experience of homophobia, Kemmesies ensures that is always in the back of the viewer’s mind. Combined with the often tense, quiet scenes which are filmed in relative silence, anxiety is heightened. The viewer feels on edge when watching the film and the silence is beautiful, lonely and at times oppressive. It’s an incredibly clever device to draw the viewer in to the anxious world of two boys who are grappling with their sexuality and the possible threat of violence which hangs over them both.
In many ways, the viewer's journey is similar to Marlo's. As Marlo seeks to get closer to Kirill, so too does the viewer. With loaded stares and little dialogue, both Marlo and the viewer have to learn to read Kirill with the little he discloses in order to delve deeper into the character, which is layered, complex and never fully revealed. The ‘Silent Youth’ that give the film its title are not only quiet in their interactions with one another, but their nuanced stories are never fully revealed to the viewer. Silence pervades throughout the film and because so much is left unsaid, the viewer is left with the feeling that there are stories we haven't yet been told. If you find films which don't wrap up every detail frustrating, this is probably not one for you but if you like ambiguity and the ability to draw your own conclusions, this is rewarding and absolutely worth the effort.
Some of the reviews have talked of a lifelessness to the relationship between Marlo and Kirill – of the cool, almost clinical bond which develops. On the contrary, I found the relationship to be one I rooted for until the end. The interactions, while stilted at times, felt very real and there's an authenticity to the film and the steady bond that forms between Kirill and Marlo. It requires perseverance, but from the outset I felt the connection between Bruchman’s Marlo and Mattes’ Kirill in my bones.
The film is suffused with long, lingering looks, tense, uncertain body language, so many words left unsaid and an utterly beautiful kiss. The aftermath of Marlo and Kirill’s first physical encounter and beautifully shot ending all made this a very satisfying, contemplative watch.
Would highly recommend.