The most perilous minefield in the movies might be daring to explore teen sexuality on screen.
Raunchy farces use the cover of comedy, because everybody knows taking this subject seriously risks crossing the line into straight-up exploitation. And whatever notoriety you want for your film, few are going to embrace the scandal of turning up on a “hot teen sex” web search.
Those are the stakes for filmmakers’ Iliana Estañol and Johanna Lietha’s “Lovecut,” a never-sordid but somewhat sterile survey of sexuality in the social media age set amongst the young, beautiful and under-parented in Vienna. They take care to avoid the whole “hot teen sex” trap by limiting nudity and keeping their focus on the young couples, their challenges and the life-altering dead-ends they can drift into trying to figure out love and sex on their own.
Everybody in the movie has secrets. Each of them is homeless, recklessly rebellious or otherwise damaged going in. And all of them end up in relationships limited or doomed by the digital nature of dating for this generation.
Anna and Jakob (Sara Toth and Kerem Abdelhamed) are in the white-hot heat stage of their affair, always in search of the next place they can “do it,” and capture what they do on video. Instagram keeps taking down Anna’s exhibitionist displays of their ardor. But if they want to move in together, the older (maybe 19) Jakob has an idea — uploading their videos to paying porn sites.
“But what if our friends see them?” Anna frets, as if their friends aren’t seeing them in bed, on rooftops or wherever the next sexual selfie is set.
Besties Luka and Momo (Luca von Schrader and Melissa Irowa) are bar and club-hopping teens on the loose, each providing the other with cover and a sense of security as Luka drags Momo — who likes playing with the assumed name and guise of “Olga, from Russia” — along on a Tinder date with Ben (Max Kuess).
Luka is all about messing around. “I don’t want a relationship,” she insists (in German with English subtitles). “Me either.” And “No FEELINGS,” she insists.
Momo isn’t content being the third wheel for Luka’s “no feelings” hook-ups. But her relationship with Alex (Valentin Gruber) is strictly online, video calls for mutual, semi-clothed masturbation. She’s anxious to meet in person, but Alex isn’t.
The “secrets” here range from the obvious to the genuinely surprising, and all point to what we “know” about someone based on their social media profile and the superficial nature of the love connections.
Everybody’s young and sexy in their streak-dyed hair, top knots, torn fishnets, short skirts or belly-baring shirts. Getting beyond that is where everything turns messy — “too old for her,” probation, greed, “using” people, exhibitionism and the like doom every affair captured here, a generation digitally trapped in a learning curve that earlier ones never had to contend with, although each era has its own challenges.
For all their film’s surface intimacy, Estañol and Lietha have the hardest time connecting the viewer with these kids. We may see their flaws and emphasize with their challenges, but there’s a clinical distance to the portrayals, a Teutonic iciness that robs them of emotions.
Nobody cries at what they’re going through, no one loses her or his temper at the way whoever they’ve hooked-up with uses them.
The drama is limited to a few mild parental outbursts, a lot of measured, under-challenged acting-out, plenty of episodes where things come to a head and yet don’t. Not really.
This milieu, kids flopping from apartment to house-breaking to checked-out hotel room that the maids haven’t cleaned yet, has an earthy promise that rarely delivers. Younger viewers may find a character to identify with, but the movie presents us only with superficialities — the hot guy on probation, the “virgin” who wants not just experience, but a real boyfriend.
And the message of “Lovecut,” that there is no “learning” through all this, unless it’s learning to manipulate each other and get away with murder with your parents, is just dispiriting.
Rating: unrated, sex, nudity, alcohol abuse, all involving teens
Cast: Sara Toth, Max Kuess, Kerem Abdelhamed, Luca von Schrader, Melissa Irowa and Valentin Gruber.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Iliana Estañol and Johanna Lietha. A Film Movement release.
Running time: 1:34