Hey Babu Riba Jovan Acin

The words "coming of age" strike terror into a critic's heart. Every first-time filmmaker feels beholden to rehash the first love/fights/disillusionment scenarios that made them the man (never the woman) they became, and though some are decent enough there's a ceiling on how much pleasure nostalgic navel-gazing can get you. Thus, Hey Babu Riba, featuring a collection of four endearingly awkward teens, their absurdly beautiful (and absurdly idealised) friend Esther and the usual tender romantic yearnings and angry brushes with the adult world. Granted, the stakes are slightly higher than normal: this is not George Lucas's California, 1962, but Yugoslavia, 1957, meaning that the heavy hand of the communist state hangs over the proceedings, disenfranchising one boy's father and leaving Esther's in exile. But it's still the same old song of encounters with sexy movies, pop music (the title is a mispronounced "hey bop-a-ree-bop"), unsympathetic teachers and teenage solidarity. If it had something to say about the time and place rather than "I was there," maybe this could have had some purpose; if it didn't stack the deck in favor of its gang of four, maybe this might have had some snap. And if it didn't turn Esther into a golden goddess — the very definition of a "woman on a pedestal" — the movie might have had more credibility when events do her terribly wrong. In the end, if some of the vignettes are recognisable from real life, it's an unexamined one, and the awkward "middle-aged men looking back" framing device sets us up for a reflection that never arrives. The film isn't terrible, but it's standard and ultimately forgotten on the heap of films just like it from across the globe. (MGM)