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Scene from "Disfluency" // CIFF

CIFF 2021 Reviews: Best Coming-of-Age films

By Rachneet Randhawa and Ramiro Bustamante Torres, December 27 2021—

This year at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) Coming-of-Age flicks were in abundance showcasing the attitudes, interests and behaviours young adults face. This year the collection of films were largely curated for a Coming-of-Age theme, that is, a young person’s transition from a child and adolescence to an adult and the profound lessons associated with this change. Everything from high school romances and budding first loves, to figuring out your life after graduation and launching your career, to contentious realities like sexual assault or abortion are among the many issues youth deal with as they mature. 


This was one of the top picks for Coming-of-Age films, mostly because it touches on an incredibly relevant topic happening across university campuses especially in light of the #MeToo movement which emerged a few years ago. 

After unexpectedly failing her final college class due to a traumatic personal event, Jane, an aspiring speech pathologist, retreats home to her parent’s lake house in the hometown she grew up in. Her younger sister and friends alongside an old high school crush soften the burden of failure and motivate her to embrace the carefree summer after she figures out her next steps. She also rekindles an older friendship with her neighbour Amber, a single mother with a difficult toddler utilizing her skills and knowledge to help her connect with her son by teaching her American Sign Language (ASL) after discovering that he is deaf.

Scene from Disfluency // CIFF

However, not only does Jane suffer from imposter syndrome but also PTSD. After she attempts to piece together what happened after she is sexually assaulted at a college party, she unravels the emotional and psychological tangle that has been haunting her as she tries to find a path forward and heal. The best aspect of the film was how personalized and relatable it was — it didn’t feel as if you were watching a fear-mongering how-to documentary on how to stay safe on campus and avoid sexual predators. It gave us an intimate look into what happens in the sensitive and traumatic case of sexual assault and shed light on the often frustrating struggle on the journey to acceptance, self-love and recovery. 

Country: USA

Rating: 4.5/5

The Hill Where the Lionesses Roar: 

In a small village in Kosovo, three young women see their dreams and ambitions stifled. In their quest for independence, nothing can stop them. They partake in all sorts of shenanigans to quell their boredom and angst to form a gang and engage in petty crime as they impatiently await their opportunity to go away to university and escape the boredom of their small-town life. 

Qe (Flaka Latifi), Li (Era Balaj) and Jeta (Urate Shabani) are best friends that spend their days wandering around their remote town entertaining themselves on hills, throwing rocks at empty beer bottles in an abandoned swimming pool and retreating to their clubhouse. They all come from different upbringings too — Qe lives with her conservative parents and younger sister and is reluctant to take over the family’s small salon business, Li has a supportive and loving mother but faces the pressure to be a success story due to being the eldest sibling and Jeta is an orphan whose adoptive father is sexually abusive. 

Despite finishing high school, there is a lack of opportunities to go to university and live the big city life as all three of them are rejected for admission. The narrative goes further with the introduction of Lena, a girl from Paris who is visiting Kosovo with her parents. Lena (Luàna Bajrami) lives a privileged and lavish lifestyle to which our tried trio is skeptical of at first due to her crude comments that Kosovo is a better place to live because it’s more “freeing” than a big metropolis like Paris. 

Scene from The Hill Where the Lionesses Roar // CIFF

This comment is of course upsetting to Qe, Li and Jeta because they never had the option to choose for a better life— they are fixated on one place whereas a newcomer is passing by and can live wherever she pleases to go. Fast forward to the second half of the story and we see that the trio has reached their peak. They want out of the village life now so they decide to assemble a gang and raid local shops stealing enough money to get out and start a new life elsewhere. With their new loot, they take off for a fun getaway at the beach. However, this facade doesn’t last and their plans backfire upon returning home realizing that building a life through crime is not long-lasting. 

Despite the abrupt and ominous ends, it left something to be desired and perhaps an international choice by Bajrami, the director hinting at the dark reality many young women face in a developing country with a lack of opportunity. As the winner of the CIFF 2021 Festival Jury Award for Best International Narrative Feature, bs sure to check this one out. 

Country: Kosovo

Rating: 4/5


A Mamma Mia meets Norwegian Millennial Juno, the film goes through Rakel’s story of her unexpected pregnancy and figuring out what to do with a baby she doesn’t want to have. The main character is in her early 20’s going through the motions of life aimlessly, until she finds out she’s pregnant. Rakel tells the guy she believes he is the father — Mos, a jiu jitsu instructor who took it all with good faith and accompanied her to a clinic to see what her options are. To Rakel’s surprise, she was six months pregnant, due to a rare condition that doesn’t show a baby bump until much later. 

This meant Mos was not the father but another guy who she and her roommate nicknamed “Dick Jesus.” Rakel struggles with the fact that she will have to have the baby and decide who will be a better parent — her and Mos, Dick Jesus, or her successful sister. All the while she gets side commentary from an imagined version of the baby she called “Ninjababy” for sneaking into her life and turning it upside down.

Scene from Ninjababy // CIFF

This was a very good Coming-of-Age story that didn’t involve teenagers but young adults. As the audience, we get to see how even when you’re technically an adult, there are so many things that you aren’t prepared for and just how much guidance is missing in a lot of young adults. Commentary provided by “Ninjababy” — voiced by Skåm star Herman Tømmeraas — acts as comedic relief but also shows Rakel’s concerns for herself and the baby’s future. The mixture of comedy and serious conversations were entertaining but seeing Rakel struggle to make a sane decision made it hard to connect with her. Given her situation it’s easy to understand she had a lot thrown at her too quickly, as adulthood can be. 

Country: Norway

Rating: 3.5/5

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