BERLIN, Feb 14 — From a young Frenchman tempted by Islamic radicalism to gun-toting teen gangs in Naples, the Berlin film festival is shining a spotlight on disaffected youth struggling to find their place in a complex world.

In L’Adieu a la nuit (Farewell to the Night), legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve portrays a grandmother whose grandson Alex has converted to Islam and is intent on joining the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria with his girlfriend.

The story, which takes place over several days, chronicles Deneuve’s desperate battle to prevent her grandson from leaving.

“This is a boy who’s very, very angry,” Deneuve told reporters in Berlin yesterday. “From the moment I discover that he’s been radicalised, I try to understand him and not judge him.”

The film, being shown out of competition at the Berlinale, was directed by veteran filmmaker Andre Techine and inspired by journalist David Thomson’s 2014 book The French Jihadists about the allure of extremism.

Techine said he was fascinated by the contrast between “this extremely dangerous and violent viewpoint, and a female character who’s very grounded, has strong roots.”

The movie captures “the end of childhood”, he said, and shows how “for these characters who have decided to uproot their lives, religious study and military preparation have become their reason for living”.

‘Deadly Aladdin’s lamp’

The delicate transition from adolescence into adulthood is also at the heart of Italian director Claudio Giovannesi’s La Paranza dei bambini (Piranhas), about the youth gangs roaming the streets of Naples.

The film is based on the eponymous novel by anti-mafia author Roberto Saviano, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

It traces the descent of 15-year-old Nicola and his friends, played by non-professional local actors, into an increasingly high-stakes life of crime, driven by a desire to provide for their families and help their community, as well as being able to buy nice clothes and seduce girls.

“It’s a story inspired by true events. The ‘Piranhas’ are these groups of young boys who have lived a life devoid of power,” Saviano said at the Berlin film festival.

“It’s a world in which you either have money or you are feared, or you’re nothing,” he said, adding that in southern Italy few people had faith in the ability of the government or politicians to change things.

“The gun is like Aladdin’s lamp. It can get them anything, but the price they have to pay is their life,” said Saviano. ­— AFP